The Government Accountability Office released the results of a study called “Tax Gap: Limiting Sole Proprietor Loss Deductions Could Improve Compliance but Would Also Limit Some Legitimate Losses,” aka GAO-09-81.

About 5.4 million or 25% of all sole proprietors reported losses in 2006. 95% percent of these loss filers deducted some or all of their losses against other income, deducting a total of $40 billion. According to IRS estimates last made for 2001, 70% of the sole proprietor tax returns reporting losses had losses that were either fully or partially noncompliant. About 53% of aggregate dollar losses reported in 2001 were noncompliant. This noncompliance would correspond to billions of dollars of lost tax revenue.

IRS’s compliance programs address only a small portion of sole proprietor expense noncompliance. Despite investing nearly a quarter of all revenue agent time in 2008, IRS was able to examine (audit) about 1 percent of estimated noncompliant sole proprietors. These exams are costly and yielded less revenue than exams of other categories of taxpayers, in part because sole proprietorships are small in terms of receipts.