Is It OK to Cheat On Your Taxes? Some Americans Say Yes

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Integrity is sometimes loosely defined as “doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.” A variety of systems and situations in society rely on our honesty and integrity.

For instance, even children on Halloween are supposed to take only one piece of candy from those delicious-looking bowls full of treats. As we grow into adults, we’re trusted to act with integrity in many situations, and some people do so because they are afraid of the consequences associated with getting caught; others do so simply because it’s the right thing to do.

If you’re like most Americans, when you file your taxes each year, your goal is to maximize your financial gain or minimize your financial loss. With the average refund being more than $2,500 (as of the 2013 tax year), there is a lot of financial gain to be had.

Each year, an estimated 1.6 million people cheat on their taxes, according to estimates published on Statistic Brain. And what’s more, some taxpayers don’t seem to feel that cheating on taxes is all that big of a deal.

Graphic: Erika Rawes/Data source: IRS Oversight Board

Public opinion on cheating

The IRS Oversight Board published its taxpayer attitude survey in December. Overall, 12% of respondents said that it was OK to cheat on your taxes, at least “a little here and there.” One-fourth of this group said that it was OK to cheat “as much as possible.”

The vast majority of Americans (86%), however, said that it was “not at all” OK.

With so many reports of corporate tax loopholes and large companies paying lower federal tax rates than some lower- and middle-income families, it may be a matter of fairness for some taxpayers. An attitude of “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

Other findings

The IRS Oversight Board survey also reported the following findings:

  • Overall, 93% of taxpayers said they “mostly or completely” agree that everyone who cheats on their taxes should be held accountable. Sixty-six percent said they completely agree with this sentiment, and 7% said they disagree.
  • The public seems to feel the most strongly about higher-income taxpayers and corporations paying their fair shares of taxes, with 97% of respondents saying it is either “somewhat important” or “very important” for the IRS to ensure these groups honestly pay their fair shares. When asked the same question about low-income taxpayers, only 93% said it was “somewhat” or “very important” for the IRS to ensure low-income groups pay their share.
  • The Board also asked taxpayers about certain factors that may have influenced their decision to pay their taxes and refrain from cheating. The top reason respondents cited for being honest on their tax returns was personal integrity.
  • Based on the survey, the median time a taxpayer is willing to wait on hold to get a question answered by an IRS customer service representative is 10 minutes.

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