What is a Tax Collector?

Ken Black

A tax collector is a person who collects taxes, whether at the federal level or local level. In general, many jurisdictions have moved away from the term tax collector to a term that has less of a stigma attached to it. No matter what it may be called, the purpose of a tax collector is still the same, to collect taxes owed to the government and clear up any discrepancies.

Municipalities employ tax collectors for property taxes.
Municipalities employ tax collectors for property taxes.

The work of a tax collector is much different than what it was in centuries past. Many may remember stories of ancient tax collectors from the Bible or other historical texts. Invariably, it was a man's job, because it demanded a certain level of toughness. Many despised the tax collector, who was known as being a man who could be bribed and bought off by those who were in a position to do so.

Tax collectors may be offered bribes for not reporting illegal activities.
Tax collectors may be offered bribes for not reporting illegal activities.

Perhaps because of such a negative connotation, other terms have come to mean the same thing as tax collector. The Internal Revenue Service has agents. States and counties may have auditors, treasurers or comptrollers who perform the role of tax collector. Generally, the goal is still the same.

Being a tax collector in modern times is not as dangerous or as susceptible to temptations and bribes as the job was in ancient times. Now, most tax collectors work through a computer to find discrepancies and are monitored through a number of redundant checks that work to keep everyone in check. While it is still possible to find corruption, it is increasingly harder to conceal such things for an extended period of time.

Today, tax collections are done primarily through automated systems and the Internet, or through the mail. Notices are sent out for property taxes, or dates are preset for filing of income taxes. If those taxes become delinquent, then it may be up to a live person to become involved. At such a point, the situation becomes more critical for the government.

In many cases, even delinquent taxpayers will never see a live individual who fulfills the role of a tax collector. The dialog is handled entirely by letter or perhaps over the phone. It is only in rare cases where an individual will be visited by an individual who is trying to collect taxes.

The exception to this is IRS agents who may visit individuals of great wealth or businesses. Generally, these agents are highly-paid specialists who are tasked with finding larger amounts of unpaid taxes. Therefore, unless a person owns a business, works for a business, or is in the upper 2 percent of income workers, the chances of seeing a tax collector is relatively rare. If an IRS special agent does visit, it is recommended the person being visited seek legal advice, as this is usually sparked by a criminal investigation.

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