The Internal Revenue Service has problems with its tax return preparation assistance, but still offers helpful advice with tax laws, said a report issued by a Treasury Department watchdog group.

The Treasurer Inspector General for Tax Administration found that when its auditors used the IRS's Taxpayer Assistance Center services and its Free File Program for 36 tax returns, 24 of them were prepared correctly. But if seven of the 12 incorrectly prepared returns had been filed, taxpayers would have overpaid by $1,808. If the remaining five returns had been filed, taxpayers would have underpaid their taxes by $5,120.

The auditors found the Free File Program software easy to use, but said the software did not always provide much assistance in understanding tax law. Taxpayers might need to visit the Taxpayer Assistance Centers multiple times before they received appointments to have their returns prepared.

In general, the IRS scored better with its tax law assistance, but even there TIGTA found some problems. When TIGTA used the Taxpayer Assistance Centers, phone lines and site, its auditors got the right answers to 50 of their 53 tax law questions. But TIGTA still found that because of the complexity of the tax laws and the need to assist more than 361,000 taxpayers with tax law questions, the experts at the Taxpayer Assistance Centers were not trained to answer all types of questions. They could answer questions only within the scope of their expertise.

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