The new year should be a time of joy. It’s like a fresh start… for some.
But if you’re facing tax problems, anxiety about money owed to the IRS, audit situations, etc. can overshadow the new year euphoria. Pile on that the impending reality of facing yet another year’s filing… well, it makes you wanna run for the hills, or take a cue from the ostrich and bury your head in the sand.
So, how can you face those semi-scary realities?
For one, you need the right tools and a little IRS savvy to deal with difficult situations. But IRS lingo can be tough to grasp and capitalizes on your already precious brain space.
So, the other key to managing the stress is not facing these things alone.
When you’re steeped in IRS problems, having a trustworthy someone on your side who knows IRS-speak, understands the system, and has experience dealing with these situations, can make the scary a little (or lot) less so.
Of course, we’re always here for you. That’s one of the reasons we got in this business — to help people like you.
But did you know there’s someone in the government on your side as well? It sure may feel like nobody is when you’re in tax trouble. But there is, and they are there for you too.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS billing itself as “your voice at the IRS.” They aim to make sure you’re treated fairly – and that you know and understand your rights as a taxpayer.
“We offer free help to guide you through the often-confusing process of resolving tax problems that you haven’t been able to solve on your own,” the TAS says. “Remember, the worst thing you can do is nothing at all.” Straight talk for somebody from the government.
So, how can you use the TAS to get out of tax trouble? Let’s start by looking at your rights.
You have what’s called the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, and the TAS is there to defend them. Clarity is the rule, and you’re entitled to:
- Explanations of the tax law and IRS procedures and decisions.
- Prompt (a relative term at the IRS right now) and courteous help in dealing with the IRS in a way you can understand – including how you can file complaints and object to and appeal findings.
- Know the timeframes for challenges and audits.
- Privacy, confidentiality, and the right to get a representative.
In short, the IRS can’t just do what they want.
What the TAS does
The TAS can help people like you if:
– You can’t resolve your problem with the IRS and it’s causing financial difficulties for you, your family, or your business
– You face immediate “adverse action.”
– You’ve tried repeatedly to contact the IRS but heard only crickets.
The TAS doesn’t take every case – they tend toward the most serious situations, where true hardship looms – but they may take yours if the clock’s ticking on the money trouble from your tax situation or if you’re working with “multiple IRS units and need help dealing with all the moving parts.”
They’ll help if the IRS isn’t responding to you or working with you “in a timely manner” (30 days seems to be a threshold). The TAS will listen if you’ve got “a unique situation” and the IRS doesn’t seem to care about your specifics or if your case is referred to the TAS by a Congressional office.
If you qualify for TAS help, they’ll assign you an experienced advocate who will learn your details and review your account and the laws. They’ll argue for you and shepherd the paperwork through the system.
Can’t beat that – though they do ask in return that you try first to address your problems with the IRS on your own.
How to get help
The TAS website can take you through scenarios of how and under what circumstances they can help you, including a tool to see if you qualify. (One area they can’t seem to go after now is recent years’ unprocessed returns that are caught in the massive IRS backlog.)
You can call the TAS at (877) 777-4778 or reach out to them electronically. Each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific and Caribbean U.S. territories all have at least one local TAS office (find yours here).
You can also fax or mail in the four-page Form 911, “Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance,” where you’ll have to give many details about your issue (there’s also a short section for the IRS to fill out).
If you get the green light, the TAS will assign you an advocate (who will also advise you on avoiding future tax trouble). You’ll have to provide TAS with your contact info and Social Security or employer identification number, who you’ve talked to at the IRS, a description of the tax returns at issue, your problem and how you tried to resolve it, and how the problem is causing you hardship.
(If you’re using your own representative as well, you’ll want to have on file Publication 947, “Practice Before the IRS and Power of Attorney,” and Form 2848, “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative,” on file with the IRS.)
What they won’t do
There’s no magic answer to tax trouble (as you’ve learned the hard way) and the TAS has limits on how much it can help. If the IRS is working within the rules – and especially if there’s no immediate financial hardship for you – TAS may not be able to help.
Still, clearly, we’re not the only ones potentially on your side in a major tax dispute. And TAS or not, we’re always here to help you find more resources to get your tax situation back on track:
Fighting for you,
Emelia Mensa, CPA