The IRS gives banks the kid-glove treatment

If I could be reincarnated, I would come back as a banker. The world revolves around them. They get multi-million dollar bonuses, live in Fifth Avenue apartments, own spreads in Greenwich, Conn., and summer in seaside cottages in the Hamptons. When their money-making schemes go awry, taxpayers bail them out -- and even pay their bonuses!

But we already knew that. What I didn't know until I read it was that banks also get the kid-glove treatment from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when it comes to audits. In fiscal 2008, the financial services industry got audited at a 9 percent rate -- less than half the 19 percent audit rate for all other industries that fiscal year.

Is banking getting off easy because it's so much more virtuous? Not at all. In fact, recent IRS audits reveal that banks underreport taxable income at a far higher rate than IRS audits of the four other industry groups. And this doesn't even include Swiss banks like UBS (UBS) that have been helping clients dodge U.S. taxes for years -- it just paid $780 million in fines for those sins.

So add tax-dodging as yet another perk of being a banker. No wonder they're so happy to have taxpayers cover their losses -- only the little people pay taxes.

Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book isYou Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.

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