The IRS assesses two types of penalties on late filed income tax returns. The first and most expensive is the failure to file. Any tax return filed after the due date, including extensions, is considered late. The penalty is based upon the balance due with the tax return. The second penalty is the failure to pay. This is also based upon the amount due with the tax return and is calculated from the due date of the return, without regard to extensions. Some people erroneously believe that since they have a refund they don't need to worry about filing on time. However, if the return is ever audited and the result is a balance due, the penalties will be based upon the due date of the return, even if the audit occurs 2 years later.
The law allows the IRS to take the income reported to it under your social security number and file a tax return for you. If you were single the prior year, they will file you as single. If you were married the prior year, they will file a return for you as married filing separate. They will not take any itemized deductions you might be legible for nor will they deduct for any dependents you might be entitled for. It will be a very basic return designed to produce the highest amount of tax allowed to the IRS. It is rarely in your best interest. And since you didn't file the return yourself, the year remains open (subject to assessment and collection) forever.
There are a variety of reasons why taxpayers don't file or pay. Divorce, job loss, death of family members, mental or physical diseases, drug and alcohol problems, dog ate the homework, etc. are many of the reasons why taxpayers fail to file or pay. The law allows for the abatement (removal) of penalties for reasonable cause. Obviously, it is very subjective.
Audits are an examination of the tax return you filed with the IRS. The examiner, typically a Revenue Agent, looks for undocumented income and unsubstantiated expenses or deductions. If the audit is performed in the IRS office, it is considered an office audit. These are common for wage earners. If the audit is conducted at the taxpayer's home or place of business, these are field audits. For our clients, field audits are typically conducted in our offices. It is generally too disruptive to have an IRS auditor or examiner hanging around your office for several days.
A correspondence audit is done by mail. The IRS sends you a letter either alleging you forgot some item of income or requests to see the documentation to substantiate a deduction you have taken on your tax return. The most common type is the CP2000 notice, a computer generated notice that you failed to report an item of income. These must be checked closely since the reporting agency, often time the Social Security Administration for W2's, can make typographical errors. If you fail to properly dispute these errors the IRS is free to assess and collect the tax they believe is owed. And if ignored long enough, your only recourse is to pay the tax, penalty, and interest and then sue the IRS in court, an expensive proposition.
Audit reconsiderations are discretionary on the part of the IRS. However, we have been successful in convincing the IRS to reopen an audit where the taxpayers were poorly represented or new information is now available that was not available at the original audit.
A lien is merely a statement alleging that you owe a tax debt. It is legally created anytime you owe taxes. It can show up on your credit report, and if the IRS locates property you own, it can be filed against the property. The most common example is a lien filed against your home. Once filed, you cannot sell the asset until the lien is paid off. For houses, the payoff is part of closing. And if you don't have sufficient equity to payoff the mortgage(s) and lien, you can only sell your home by bringing your own money to closing.
A levy is the taking of an asset. Most common is the bank levy. The IRS serves a levy notice on your bank for money held in your account. The account is frozen for an amount of money up to the amount owed to the IRS. If there is less in the account than you owe, the whole account is frozen for 21 days. During that time the original amount in the account is locked up. Any new money added is not part of the original levy. At the end of the 21 days the money is transferred to the IRS unless you have obtained a release from the IRS. Most levies are one-shot deals but the IRS can continue to get new levies on a daily basis. They generally don't. Part of resolving tax debts is to obtain from the IRS a release of the levy.
Garnishments are ongoing levies. Most common is the wage garnishment in which the IRS takes all but a pittance of your take home pay. The IRS would serve its garnishment on your employer. The employer is required to leave you a preset amount to live on (although you couldn't live on the amount the IRS authorizes) and send the balance to the IRS toward your tax debt. The garnishment is one of the most effective tools the IRS has to get you to the bargaining table. And most employers hate garnishments since it creates a lot of extra work for their payroll department. Some employers have policies against having unresolved tax debts. We have a strong track record of getting the IRS to release the garnishment.
The installment agreement is a payment plan between you and the IRS. The IRS has some flexibility regarding the payment amount as long as the debt will be paid off before the statute of limitations expire. If the amount due is small and you are offering large payments, it can be quite simple to get an installment agreement. The agreement comes with some strings attached, such as staying current on the filing and paying of future tax returns for as long as the agreement is in place. Penalties and interest will continue to be charged although the penalty rate is currently reduced during the installment agreement. The IRS charges a nominal fee to setup an installment agreement. For larger debts or those debts involving payroll tax issues the IRS may elect to assign a Revenue Officer (debt collector) to determine the maximum payment they can bet from you.
The "pennies on the dollar" program allows taxpayers to settle their tax debt for something less than full payment. The criteria is fairly rigid and was designed by Congress, not the IRS. It is a pure business decision. The IRS determines what it could liquidate you for and adds to that what it could collect over the next 48 months and arrives at a minimum amount it might accept. The OIC program is a great program for those that qualify. But don't use it lightly since it stops the running of the statute of limitations on collections. Proper preparation of IRS financial statements is the key to a good OIC. And since the IRS is back-logged with Offers, patience is a virtue. But for those that qualify, this is a great program. Offers can be made with a lump sum payment or payments over time (much like an installment agreement). Acceptance by the IRS of an offer does come with strings attached, such as staying current with filing and paying for five years after the offer is accepted.
The IRS has 10 years to collect on back taxes unless the time period has been extended, either by consent of the taxpayer or by certain actions of the taxpayer. The most common reason for the statute of limitations to collect to have been extended is when the IRS has no ability to collect on the debt. Typically, this is because the taxpayer was out of the country, had made an Offer in Compromise, or was under the bankruptcy court. During the time the IRS could not legally collect the running of the 10-year statute of limitations is stopped (tolled). Knowing what has happened during the 10 years is critical to knowing when the IRS can no longer dun you for the debt. It is not uncommon for a tax debt to be removed because the time to collect has expired. The IRS is allowed to accept payments from you but they can't dun you for any debt that is outside the statute of limitations for collections.
Only Enrolled Agents, CPA's and Attorneys are allowed to represent taxpayers before the IRS. An unenrolled tax preparer can defend a client for whom he prepared a tax return during audit but cannot take it to appeals or represent the taxpayer before the collections division. Our members are all federally authorized to represent all taxpayers. We are not affiliated with nor are employees of the IRS. We work exclusively to provide you with the best representation possible in your controversies with the IRS.
We believe that the IRS is made up of hard-working individuals who just want to do a good job for their employer. We have encountered very few who abuse their power or who intentional want to make life miserable for taxpayers. They perform their job in the best manner possible. We just don't agree with them on how the job should be done. We have a healthy and professional disagreement with them on how to solve taxpayer problems. We don't view them as the enemy. While we might need to take a more adversarial role in our dealings with IRS representatives, we do so because we know you are counting on us to give you our best effort in resolving your tax problem. We believe that our tremendous success in representing taxpayers is our desire to advocate aggressively for you in the most professional manner possible.