Stop Hitting Yourself: The Conundrum of IRS Collections

Note: This is a guest post written by an attorney that formerly worked in the tax resolution industry, and later went on to work with the US Attorney’s Office. He has asked to remain anonymous, but wanted to share some personal insights about the IRS Collections process.
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For those that don’t work much with the Collections Division of the Internal Revenue Service, there is a stigma attached to both the methods and people involved. On one side, the IRS is seen as bullying taxpayers, especially the “little old ladies” and the “working men.” On the other side, the taxpayers are seen as being inadequate business people and as “stealing” from the government. Is the IRS an evil organization created by bureaucrats to systematically take the wealth of it’s citizens? Are the individuals caught up in the system evildoers needing to brought to justice? Both statements are a little extreme.

In all reality, the Collections Division of the IRS does not care where the money goes. Sometimes, it does not even care if it gets it. It, like many administrative agencies, seems more caught up it’s own procedures. Anyone having worked with the IRS might wonder if they are on a fool’s errand, considering how many of the installment agreements entered into by the IRS default.

The Collections Division is concerned primarily about getting taxes that should have been paid, but were not (a.k.a. “the tax gap”). These can be … Read the rest

IRS Increases Debt Ceiling For Streamline Installment Agreements

An IRS Installment Agreement, or payment plan, is the primary means by which taxpayers with tax debts settle up with the government. A special provision in the law allows the IRS to accept payment plans without reviewing your financial information, which they are otherwise normally required to do. These simpler payment plans are called a Streamline Installment Agreement.

Normally, applying for an IRS payment plan is literally like applying for a home mortgage loan, and requires extensive prying into your personal finances. Historically, the IRS will simplify this procedure if you owe less than $25,000 and can make large enough payments to pay off the tax debt within 5 years (60 months).

The IRS has issued new regulations regarding Streamline Installment Agreements, due to the continued economic difficulties and the fact that their collections case burden is skyrocketing and they don’t have the personnel to manage so many tax debts.

The IRS will accept now a Streamline Installment Agreement for taxpayers that owe up to $50,000. In addition, they will give you up to 6 years to pay it all off. This effectively makes the vast majority of tax debtors eligible for the program, allowing the IRS to expend resources chasing after people that owe much larger sums of money, and lessening the headache and aggravation they cause to middle class families that have enough to worry about without the threat of the IRS seizing funds in bank accounts or … Read the rest

Top 5 IRS Enforcement Priorities For 2012

Every year, the IRS rolls out new initiatives to make sure everybody is complying with the tax laws. While certain things, such as frivolous tax arguments, are always enforced, the IRS shuffles personnel around to enforce compliance with certain parts of the tax code based on the trends they identify. Five of those trends are discussed here.

1. Foreign accounts and assets. If you have money or assets overseas, the IRS wants to know about it. If you have more than $10,000 in a foreign bank account, you’re required to file an annual disclosure statement with the Treasury Department. In addition, the IRS is now requiring foreign banks to enter into information sharing agreements, or else have 30% of payments transferred to them from the U.S. withheld to pay potential tax bills. The failure to disclose your overseas assets can result in significant penalties, and potentially criminal prosecution.

2. Payroll taxes. The single biggest emphasis of enforcement within the employment tax arena has to do with taxpayers that pyramid their employment tax liabilities, meaning that they owe money, and continue to accrue new liabilities each quarter. The IRS is also heavily targeting the owners of S-corporations that don’t pay corporate officers a fair wage (and thus payroll taxes), but rather take nothing but distributions, which are not subject to payroll taxes.

3. Gift tax audits. Many people don’t realize that giving cash gifts to their friends and family can have … Read the rest

How The IRS Works Collections Cases

When a taxpayer owes money to the IRS, they enter the IRS Collections system. The IRS has a very detailed process that they are required by law to follow when it comes to collecting tax debts. Knowing a little bit about how this system works and how IRS collections personnel are required to act can be very beneficial to you.

There are two distinct collections units within the IRS. The first is the Automated Collection System (ACS), which consists of computerized lien filings, automated send out of bills and notices on set intervals, and the call center agents that perform basic collections functions. It is important to understand that the people you’re talking to on the phone at ACS have limited authority, and may not be able to assist you with every tax matter without elevating to a supervisor or other personnel.

The other distinct collection unit within the IRS is the Collection Field Function. Field agents, called Revenue Officers, are located in cities and towns across the country. Rural Revenue Officers may work from home and have a field territory covering hundreds of miles, while thousands of agents in big cities have extremely small territories and may hardly ever leave their Federal Building.

Revenue Officers are required to do many things in order to “resolve” a tax liability placed under their control. They are required, by law and regulation, to collection certain information, verify things through whatever means available, … Read the rest

JK Harris Goes Out of Business

Back in October, the largest tax resolution company in America, JK Harris, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, which would have allowed them to continue operating and restructure their debts under a payment plan.

However, their largest creditor, which appears to have had a claim against the company exceeding $11 million, has decided not to allow them to restructure the debt, and has instead seized all the companies cash and assets in a liquidation of the company.

This means that, within the past 15 months or so, the 3 largest tax resolution firms in the United States have gone out of business, either by bankruptcy or government action. A little over a year ago, American Tax Relief in Los Angeles was shut down by the FTC, and the owners are facing numerous criminal charges. In early 2011, Roni Deutch was shut down by the California Attorney General, and Roni herself was forced to turn in her law licensed and faced state perjury charges.

JK Harris has been the target of several class action lawsuits regarding their sales practices and poor customer service. They have also been investigated by the Attorneys General for several states.

If the closing of JK Harris has left you in a bad place regarding your tax matters, please contact a local taxpayer representation firm from our directory.

Conducting Research Before Hiring a Tax Resolution Firm

When it comes to something as important as resolving your tax liabilities, it is important to conduct research on the tax resolution firm(s) you are considering before agreeing to purchase their services.

What sort of things should somebody do as part of conducting their “due diligence”?

First of all, visit the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.com and look for any complaints or outstanding issues that they have with clients.

Second, you may actually want to turn to an unlikely source for information on certain companies: Your IRS Revenue Officer. Revenue Officers will not provide an unbiased opinion, of course, and many of them will even tell you not to secure representation (which is a violation of IRS policies for them to say, but they still do it). However, your RO has probably worked with most of the large, national tax resolution firms and can give you their personal opinion on the firm if you ask.

Third, before signing a contract for taxpayer representation, be sure to confirm that the firm that will provide your representation will assign your case to a licensed representative. You should be guaranteed that your representative is a licensed attorney, licensed Certified Public Accountant, or a licensed Enrolled Agent, before you sign any contract. The IRS will not allow non-licensed representatives to negotiate for a taxpayer, but you would be surprised at how often large firms have unlicensed assistants doing the actual IRS negotiation.

Fourth, be … Read the rest

IRS Tax Resolution Through An Installment Agreement

The IRS allows taxpayers to resolve their outstanding tax debt via a payment plan, which they call an “Installment Agreement”. Most of these plans have a set monthly payment, but they can also be adjusted based on your seasonal cash flow, and they also permit tiered agreements that call for occasional increases in the monthly payment amounts.

Some taxpayers may qualify for special installment agreements that require little or no financial documentation, similar to a no-doc or low-doc mortgage.

In rare circumstances, based entirely on your financial situation, you may even qualify for an Installment Agreement in which you never fully pay off the back tax liability, called a “Partial Pay Installment Agreement” (PPIA).

As part of negotiating your installment agreement, a comprehensive financial analysis of your business or personal finances will be required. The kind of information we will need to review, as mentioned above, is very similar to what would be required for a loan application. For businesses, this information includes all of the standard business accounting information, such as:

  • balance sheets
  • bank statements
  • profit and loss statements
  • accounts receivable aging reports
  • asset lists & depreciation schedules

At first, many clients are apprehensive about providing this detailed financial information to a tax consultant. However, this information is necessary to perform a proper financial analysis and properly negotiate your tax resolution.

If your financial situation is such that you can legitimately only pay a a minimal amount, the IRS … Read the rest

Is the IRS Holding Your Unclaimed Refund Check?

Finally, a happy thought when it comes to taxes: The IRS may be holding money that is yours, and they really, really do want to give it to you!

If you had a job and had income taxes withheld from your paycheck, but you didn’t file a return either because you didn’t have to because of your income level or because you thought you wouldn’t get the money back, you may actually be in for a surprise. It may not necessarily be a lot of money, but I believe you should even file your claim for a $10 refund merely on principle if it’s owed to you.

The IRS keeps millions of dollars every year that they are not legally entitled to keep, simply because taxpayers didn’t realize they could get the money back. In order to file a return for the express purpose of getting a refund, even if you weren’t legally obligated to file a tax return, you need to file the return and request the refund within 3 years of when the tax return was originally due, which is generally April 15th of each year for personal income tax returns. After this three year period, the government says, “Too bad, so sad” and gets to legally keep your money.

If you file a tax return late, but are due a refund, there are no penalties for late filing. They only whack you with late filing penalties … Read the rest

Do I Need To Include My Wife’s Income In My Offer in Compromise?

Earlier this week, a reader inquired about whether or not he was required to include his spouse’s income when filing his Offer in Compromise. The reason it was in question is because they maintain completely separate financial lives. They file separate tax returns, have separate bank accounts, and don’t even title anything jointly.

Before you question why somebody would do something like that, there are actually numerous reasons for doing so, especially in regards to various aspects of state law. There are also business and asset protection reasons for keeping things separate. For example, if one spouse owns a business or is involved in a profession or activity with a high degree of litigation, then keeping different financial houses can be a good idea.

Here’s the answer to the question: Believe it or not, even if only one person owes the tax liability, the income (and allowable expenses) of everybody in a household must be taken into consideration in the Offer in Compromise application process. This applies to everybody living in the home — even people just renting a room from you.

Now of course, your representative will work to get the non-responsible party’s income and expenses taken off the reporting requirements. Under the tax code, the only person responsible for an IRS tax debt is the person against whom it is assessed, and nobody else.

If you need help with your Offer in Compromise, search our directory to find … Read the rest

Evaluating Your Tax Debt Resolution Options

When it comes to resolving your tax debt, you have a number of possible routes you could take. In this article, I’ll go into some of the pros and cons of each option so that you have the information you need to make the best decision for yourself.

Do It Yourself Tax Resolution

Probably the route most people take, doing it yourself seems like the obvious or only choice for most people and small businesses. Simple tax debt problems that only cover a year or two, especially cases where the tax debt is under $10,000 (or under $50,000 if it’s only income taxes) are fairly easy to resolve with only a few phone calls (one phone call, in some cases).

If you can follow written instructions, are good with forms and paperwork, and have your personal financial paperwork in good order, then representing yourself is neither difficult nor time consuming. You need to be able to read and understand IRS notices and publications and forms, and keep good financial records for yourself.

Here’s a quick test: If you file your own tax return every year and have no problem doing so, then you can probably represent yourself if you have an income tax issue. If you struggle with doing your tax return, even if you use step-by-step software, then you might want to consider getting help with the situation, as well as if you have tax debts other than personal … Read the rest