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IRS Special Agent: Career Guide

IRS special agents work for the Criminal Investigations Division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is the law enforcement side of the Department of the Treasury. IRS special agents are law enforcement officials who investigate financial crimes. Special agents who work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may advance to a supervisory position with experience. IRS special agents with an interest in computer evidence retrieval can apply for training as a Computer Investigative Specialist (CIS). Prospective computer investigative specialists must successfully complete basic training and computer evidence recovery courses over five weeks. Investigative specialists then must take a Computer Analysis Evidence Training course, which runs for three weeks, as well as training covering advanced data recovery.

IRS special agent openings are posted online at USAJobs.gov.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

IRS special agents:

  • Conduct audits
  • Investigate criminal tax violations and currency crimes
  • Work on gathering evidence regarding crimes
  • Perform forensic accounting tasks
  • Track and prosecute money laundering crimes
  • Uncover violations of the Bank Secrecy Act

The crimes agents investigate typically fall into one of four categories:

  • Drug-related financial crimes
  • Illegal source financial crimes
  • Legal source financial crimes
  • Terrorism financing

Steps for Becoming an IRS Special Agent

Prospective special agents should meet strict qualifications, which include being a US citizen and at least 21 years of age. The education and experience required for a prospective IRS special agent depend on the level of the job. Some IRS jobs require a minimum of an associate degree with some experience and others require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Still others require an acceptable combination of education and experience. A master’s degree in accounting or finance will be especially helpful for candidates. Candidates who have a master’s degree and possess Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification have an even greater edge in the hiring process. Coursework in accounting, finance, economics, tax law, or a related field should increase your chances of being hired. Check with the IRS special agent job description to see if you meet the specific requirements for that position. In order to become an IRS special agent, you can expect to follow steps similar to the ones below.

  1. Acquire the degree and/or experience needed to become an IRS special agent.
  2. Find and apply for an open IRS special agent job on the USAJOBS website.
  3. Take and pass a drug test.
  4. Take and pass a physical examination.
  5. Undergo a full background investigation.
  6. Undergo a tax audit.
  7. Take and pass a drug test.
  8. Be interviewed.
  9. Be hired as an IRS special agent.
  10. Receive on-the-job training as an IRS special agent.

IRS Special Agent Job Training

Prospective IRS special agents should be prepared to complete both initial and ongoing training throughout their careers with the Department of the Treasury. New hires must first successfully complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program, which runs nine weeks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Glynco, Georgia. Novice special agents must also complete a 16-week special agent basic training program, during which time they will learn about the agency’s policies and procedures and become versed in criminal tax fraud, tax law, money laundering, interviewing techniques, preparing for court, and testifying in court. Agents must also complete a two-phase on-the-job training process. The first phase of this training concentrates on new employee orientation and must be completed within 30 days of the hiring date. The second phase, which is self-paced and must be successfully completed by the one-year anniversary of the hire date, focuses on ethics, interviewing techniques, investigation procedures, form preparation, report writing, and safety.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Successful candidates should generally have previous experience in law enforcement or investigative work that focused predominantly on areas related to the IRS special agent’s role, including forensic auditing, accounting, and business practices.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • IRS Criminal Investigator
  • IRS Special Agent

IRS Special Agent Salary and Job Outlook

Salaries for IRS special agents are based on experience, education, and time-in-service. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents earn an average annual salary of $51,430.1 Those who work for the federal government earn a substantially higher average, at $59,690.1

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Where do IRS special agents typically work?

Answer: Special agents may work in one of 26 posts in the US and overseas, including Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Great Britain, and Mexico. Overseas positions are limited in number, so usually, preference for these posts is given to senior agents.

Question: What kind of ongoing training is necessary for IRS special agents?

Answer: All IRS special agents who do not work in a supervisory role must successfully complete the Special Agent Advanced Training Program (SAATP) every five years. The SAATP is an eight-day program that provides agents with training in the latest advanced investigative operations and techniques.

Question: Are IRS special agents required to complete any ongoing educational requirements?

Answer: The IRS recommends that all special agents independently engage in what it refers to as “self-developmental activities.” Activities may include completing college courses, online courses, and training courses. IRS special agents are also encouraged to read professional journals and books.

Question: What is the earliest age an IRS special agent can retire?

Answer: Agents can retire when they reach the age of 50 if they have 20 years of federal law enforcement service, or after they’ve accrued 25 years of service, whichever comes first.

Additional Resources

  • Association of Former Special Agents: IRS – An organization dedicated to helping former IRS special agents stay connected through online and in-person activities.
  • Internal Revenue Service – An overview of the IRS’s division of Criminal Investigations (CI) and the special agent career.
  • Police Chief Magazine – An article discussing the training experience for those who train at the IRS National Criminal Investigation Training Academy.

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/tax-examiners-and-collectors-and-revenue-agents.htm