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Mulling Migrations

Time your tax evasion

If you've stiffed the IRS, you picked a good year to do so. An election year, in fact, might give you a bit of cover.

Markeverson_irsThat seems to be the message from the IRS.

A story in today's New York Times says that earlier this month, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson (at right) ordered his agency to postpone collection of back taxes from Hurricane Katrina victims until after the Nov. 7 elections and the holiday season.

The reason: To avoid negative publicity.

Good luck with that, Mr. E.

Everson told Times' reporter David Cay Johnson that putting off collections until after the midterm elections, as well as postponing notices to people who didn't file their 1040s, was a routine move so as not to cast the IRS in a bad light. Some former IRS officials, however, question the move, especially its political implications.

I totally understand Everson's desire to stem bad publicity whenever possible. The IRS catches a lot of heat, some of it justified (private tax debt collectors, for example). But some of the criticism should be more appropriately aimed at Congress, which actually comes up with the tax laws that the IRS is charged with enforcing.

Everson's PR-by-omission move, however, probably has backfired. It makes the IRS look like a political tool, which is just one of those aspersions the commish was trying to circumvent.

By the way, just because the IRS isn't actively tracking down overdue money or filings right now, it doesn't mean that errant taxpayers are off the hook. It's just delaying the inevitable.

The tax payments and forms are still due and penalties and interest associated with their lateness will keep accruing until paid.

So even if the agency isn't hassling you right now, if you owe Uncle Sam money and/or a 1040, you should try to rectify that situation ASAP. By the time the IRS gets around to you in January, you'll owe two more months of added charges.


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