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Help With Common IRS Problems

Published in Coatings Pro Magazine
 Lance Wallach
It is tax time. There are many problems you can run into with the IRS. This article is a generalized overview of some of these confusing issues:

•    IRS Penalties
•    Unfiled Tax Returns 
•    IRS Liens
•    IRS Audits
•    Payroll Tax Problems
•    IRS Levies
•    Wage Garnishments
•    IRS Seizures

When dealing with the IRS, it can seem like they have all the power. That is not always true. As a small business owner--and a taxpayer--it is vital that you know your options and your rights.

 IRS Penalties

The IRS penalizes millions of taxpayers each year. In fact, they have so many penalties that it can be hard to understand which penalty they are hitting you with.

The most common penalties are Failure to File and Failure to Pay. Both of these penalties can substantially increase the amount you owe the IRS in a very short period of time.

To make matters worse, the IRS charges interest on penalties. Many taxpayers often find out about IRS problems many years after they have occurred. As a result, the amount owed the IRS is substantially greater due to penalties and the accumulated interest on those penalties. Some IRS penalties can be as high as 75% to 100% of the original taxes owed. Often taxpayers can afford to pay the taxes owed, but the extra penalties make it impossible to pay off the entire balance.

The original goal of the IRS imposing penalties was to punish taxpayers in order to keep them in line. Unfortunately, the penalties have turned into additional sources of income for the IRS. So they are happy to add whatever penalties they can and to pile interest on top of those penalties. Your loss is their gain.
It is important to know that under certain circumstances the IRS does abate, or forgive, penalties. Therefore before you pay the IRS any penalty amounts, you may want to consider requesting that the IRS abate your penalties.

Unfiled Tax Returns

Many taxpayers fail to file required tax returns for a variety of reasons. What you must understand is that failure to file tax returns may be construed as a criminal act by the IRS--a criminal act punishable by up to one year in jail for each year not filed. Needless to say, its one thing to owe the IRS money but another thing to potentially lose your freedom for failure to file a tax return.

The IRS may file “SFR” (Substitute For Return) Tax Returns on your behalf. This is the IRS’s version of an unfiled tax return. Because SFR Tax Returns are filed in the best interest of the government, the only deductions you’ll see are standard deductions and one personal exemption. You will not get credit for deductions to which you may be entitled, such as exemptions for a spouse or children, interest on your home mortgage and property taxes, cost of any stock or real estate sales, business expenses, etc.

Remember that regardless of what you have heard, you have the right to file your original tax return, no matter how late it is filed.

IRS Liens

The IRS can make your life miserable by filing Federal Tax Liens on your business or property. Federal Tax Liens are public records indicating that you owe the IRS various taxes. They are filed with the County Clerk in the county from which you or your business operates.

Because they are public records, they will show up on your credit report. This often makes it difficult to obtain financing on an automobile or a home. Federal Tax Liens can also tie up your personal property, meaning that you cannot sell or transfer that property without a clear title.

Often taxpayers find themselves in a Catch-22 in which they have property that they would like to borrow against, but because of the Federal Tax Lien, they cannot get a loan. Should a Federal Tax Lien be filed against you, a CPA can help get it lifted.

IRS Audits 

The IRS conducts multiple types of audits. They can audit you by mail, in their offices, in your office or home. The location of the audit is a good indication of the severity.

Typically, Correspondence Audits are conducted to locate missing documents in your tax return that have been flagged by IRS computers. These documents usually include W-2s and 1099 income items or interest expense items. This type of audit can typically be handled through the mail with the correct documentation.

The IRS Office Audit--held in IRS offices--is usually conducted by a Tax Examiner who will request numerous documents and explanations of various deductions. During this type of audit you may be required to produce all bank records for a period of time so that the IRS can check for unreported income.

The IRS Home or Office Audit--held in your home or office--should be taken very seriously as these are conducted by IRS Revenue Agents. Revenue Agents receive more training and learn more auditing techniques than typical Tax Examiners.
Of course, all IRS audits should be taken seriously as they often lead to examinations of other tax years and other tax problems not stated in the original audit letter.

Payroll Tax Problems

The IRS is very aggressive in their collection attempts for past-due payroll taxes. The penalties assessed on delinquent payroll tax deposits or filings can dramatically increase the total amount you owe in just a matter of months.

I believe that it is critical for business owners to have an attorney present in these situations. Your answers to the first five IRS questions may determine whether you stay in business or are liquidated by the IRS. We always advise clients to avoid meeting with any IRS representatives regarding payroll taxes until you have met with a professional to discuss your options.

IRS Levies--Bank and Wage 

An IRS Levy is an action taken by the IRS to collect taxes. For example, the IRS can issue a Bank Levy to obtain the cash in your savings and checking accounts. Or, the IRS can levy your wages or accounts receivable. The person, company, or institution that is served with the levy must comply or face its own IRS problems.

When the IRS levies a bank account, the levy can only be honored on the particular day on which the bank receives the levy. The bank is required to remove whatever amount of money is in your account on that day (up to the amount of the IRS Levy) and send it to the IRS within 21 days unless otherwise notified by the IRS. This type of levy does not affect any future deposits made into your bank account unless the IRS issues another Bank Levy.

An IRS Wage Levy is different. Wage Levies are filed with your employer and remain in effect until the IRS notifies the employer that the Wage Levy has been released. Most Wage Levies take so much money from the taxpayer’s paycheck that the taxpayer doesn’t even have enough money remaining to meet basic needs.
Both Bank and Wage Levies create difficult situations and should be avoided if possible.

Wage Garnishments

The IRS Wage Garnishment is a very powerful tool used to collect taxes that you owe through your employer. Once a Wage Garnishment is filed with an employer, the employer is required to collect a large percentage of each paycheck. The funds that would have otherwise been paid to the employee will then be paid to the IRS.
The Wage Garnishment stays in effect until the IRS is fully paid or until the IRS agrees to release the garnishment. Having wages garnished can create other debt problems because the amount left over after the IRS takes its cut is often small, so you may have difficulty with bills and other financial obligations.

IRS Seizures

The IRS has extensive powers when it comes to seizures of assets. These powers allow them to seize personal and business assets to pay off outstanding tax liabilities. Seizures typically occur when taxpayers have been avoiding the IRS.

Similar to levies and garnishments, seizures are one of the IRS’s ultimate invasive collection tools. They can seize cars, television sets, jewelry, computers, collectibles, business equipment, or anything of value, which can be sold in order to acquire the money the IRS wants to pay off your tax debts. If you are facing a seizure, you have a serious problem.

Hopefully this tax season will begin and end without any of these IRS issues coming into play. But if they do, help is out there. CPAs and attorneys can help you negotiate your rights should it become necessary.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, abusive tax shelters, financial, international tax, and estate planning.  He writes about 412(i), 419, Section79, FBAR, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as the AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, or visit
The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

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