Howard's IRS and the Law Blog

After conducting an extensive review of their use of outside private debt collectors, the IRS has decided to eliminate the program in its entirety.  The program lasted for all of 30 months.

But the IRS is not standing still.  This is not a downsizing mode. The IRS is beefing up collection efforts.

Significantly, the IRS will replace the private debt collectors with a hire of over 1,000 new internal collection officers.  This is significant as the private debt collectors had no ability to take any enforcement action against taxpayers.  They were used as what amounted to an outsourced IRS call center.

By comparison, internal IRS collection officers have access to a wide range of enforcement tools – levy, lien, seizure and the power to summons – as well as the ability to conduct detailed investigations and visit a taxpayer’s home and business.

In announcing the new collection hires, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman stated “I believe this work is best done by IRS employees, and I believe we have strong support from the Administration and the Congress for increased IRS enforcement resources going forward.”  So much for kinder and gentler in a troubling economy.

As the year progresses, time will tell how these hires are disbursed – into local enforcement efforts (Revenue Officers) or centralized processing (Automated Collection Service).

IRS Revenue Officers are the most experienced and sophisticated collection employees within the IRS. They work high dollar cases identified by the IRS to be of significance.  Focus is often given to business cases, employment tax liabilities, repeat offenders and non-filers.

The Revenue Officer function is localized, with their offices located near your home or business.  Revenue Officers are “field agents,” meaning they are expected to get out of the office and get into the “field.”

If you case has been assigned to an IRS Revenue Officer, expect an initial unannounced visit to your place of business or residence.  These visits are known to occur on Fridays and often before holiday weekends. If you are not in your office or at home, the Revenue Officer will leave a “calling card” in the door, requesting that you contact them by a set date.  If you do not voluntarily comply, the Revenue Officer has the power to summons your attendance at an IRS office.

If there is a lack of cooperation on your end, expect the Revenue Officer to start procedures to take your bank accounts, wages, retirement accounts, receivables.  Revenue Officers can also seize any equity you have in cars, autos and business equipment, but these are usually last resorts in severe cases.

And remember:

(1)     The Revenue Officer wants case resolution and a closed file as much as you do.

(2)     Case resolution can mean an offer in compromise, installment agreement or even having your case closed as uncollectible – it all depends on your finances; and

(3)     When your mouth is in the head of the bear, say nice bear.

In these difficult economic times, repaying the IRS is becoming harder than ever.  Installment agreements may be entered into in good faith, but while payments are being made, interest and penalties continue to run.  Every five years, interest and penalties double the original tax.  Most attempts to repay the IRS result in the amount owed increasing, not decreasing, because of this.

Very few people that owe money to the IRS want to be there.  For most, it is a life situation that puts them there – a failed business venture, divorce, medical problems.  But the weight of IRS interest and penalties often makes it impossible to get a fresh start – purchase a home, get remarried, start a new profession.  This economy amplifies the impact.

Because of that, I have proposed to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that he implement a program of relief for IRS interest and penalties.  For those that are out of the system and who come forward, and for those that are in the system but are treading water, forgive interest and penalties if the tax can be repaid over an agreed upon payment plan.

This would bring people back into the system, close the tax gap and stimulate the economy by helping taxpayers get out of debt.

My letter to Geithner is here.

Let me know what you think.

Here is a reason to always file your tax returns

I just resolved a case where my clients did not file their 2000 and 2001 returns. This resulted in the IRS making an estimate of their liability by what is known as a “Substitute for Return.”  These estimated returns are most always incorrect and usually overstate the amount owed.  They can turn what should be a refund into a balance due.

The IRS had my clients owing $25,000 even though my clients really did not owe anything.  To make matters worse, an IRS levy was placed on wages to collect the liability, taking $720 per month, an amount my client could not afford.

I prepared original returns for my client, which showed they were actually entitled to refunds.  The returns were personally hand-filed at an IRS walk-in center, and the levy was promptly released as there were refunds due.   A $25,000 liability turned into about $1,000 in refunds (my clients will not receive the refunds – the returns were filed too late).

Substitute returns can wreck havoc.  They usually have the wrong filing status. There are no dependency exemptions.  There are no deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions.  If a business is operated, the tax is calculated on the total gross income – no allowance for business operating expenses.

I have seen well-intentioned clients with no income other than stock sales get tangled up in IRS substitute returns.  Since their stock was sold at losses, they believed that they did not have to file.  But the IRS did not know that – all they know is the gross sales price.  The IRS calculated a significant liability, and a tax levy was issued.  After I was retained, original returns were filed, with the stock losses calculated and reported. The returns had a refund, and a levy release was secured.

If you have not filed, the damage done by IRS substitute return can be significant – incorrect balances owed, tax levies, and lost refunds. Try not to ignore IRS warning notices that they are considering filing substitute returns.  It can be fixed, but it is best to be addressed sooner rather than later.

For taxpayers seeking to contact the IRS on their own, what follows is a reason not to go at it alone but through a tax professional.

Professionals can access the IRS Automated Collection Service by first dialing in through the IRS Practitioner Priority Line.  This phone line is exclusively for the use of tax professionals.  It offers significant benefits over the number made available to the general public on IRS collection notices.

First, calling the IRS Practitioner Priority Line saves time by avoiding the longer public holding queue of calling ACS directly.

But more importantly, when connected to the IRS Practitioner Priority Line, the call can be transferred to the IRS Practitioner Priority service line employees that work within Automated Collection Service.

The IRS employees staffing the ACS Practitioner Priority line tend to offer a significant advantage to you over the IRS representatives handling calls on general line.

ACS Practitioner Priority line employees tend to be better trained, fairer, more open to listening and more sophisticated in their resolution of a case then other ACS staffers.

This is a great way to get a leg up when negotiating with the IRS Automated Collection Service, who are notoriously difficult to deal with.

I received this question from a reader about a closed business that owes employment taxes to the IRS, and her personal liability for the taxes:

The IRS is trying to collect on employment taxes from a company that has been out of business for several years. As an officer, I have already been held liable.  Can the IRS continue to go after a company that has no assets even though it has already filed for the same tax liability against an officer?

First, it is unlikely the IRS has much interest in the business.  It is closed, and in the world of the IRS, the account is probably deemed not collectible.  If the business closed in an orderly fashion and did not transfer any of its assets to nominees to continue its operations as a sham, there is probably little interest from the IRS.  If the IRS is sending notices, they are probably computer generated.

The IRS has assessed a trust fund recovery penalty against you the employment taxes that were withheld from employee paychecks.  The IRS can come after those that were in charge of the decisions not to pay the IRS employment taxes – the IRS had some belief that included you.

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