Have you been a bit remiss in meeting your tax duties? If so and you live in Arkansas, Texas or Wisconsin, you've likely or soon could find an Internal Revenue Service agent on your doorstep.
The IRS has announced that these in-person visits are part of a larger effort by the agency to, it its words, ensure fairness in the tax system.
The special compliance efforts will encompass both individual and business taxpayers.
And while the IRS characterizes these face-to-face visits as routine, it notes that the first such in-person contact from a revenue officer is almost always unannounced.
Why so personal: The IRS is focusing these latest regional compliance meetings in areas where declining resources — aka, Congressional budget cuts and workforce attrition — have forced Uncle Sam's tax agency to deal with a limited number of revenue officers.
"Over the past several years, the IRS has had to make some tough budget decisions given the reality of the budget that was available for operations, and in some cases that has caused us to reduce our presence in certain areas of the country," said Darren Guillot, deputy commissioner of collection and operations support in the IRS Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) Division, during a call earlier this month with reporters about compliance initiative.
"In some locations, we have few or no revenue officers. Those are the civil enforcement officers who help educate taxpayers as well as collect taxes and conduct civil investigations and civil enforcement. How can we make the best use of those employees?”
Those were the reasons the agency selected Wisconsin, where the visits were initiated first, followed by similar in-person outreach in Texas — I got an email yesterday, Nov. 18, from the IRS letting me know that Lone Star State visits will start this week — and Arkansas.
Targets of the IRS visits: So who's on the IRS' at-home tax tête-à-tête list?
Basically, according to the IRS, its agents will contact taxpayers, again individual and business, who have a previously known tax issue that wasn't resolved through mail contact.
Guillot said that the initiative will focus on higher-risk cases with large balances due, as well as cases "that have needed visits from a revenue officer for some time, in some cases years."
Not to nag, but this just underscores why you never, ever want to ignore an IRS notice.
On the business side, the IRS says one of its main focuses is unpaid payroll taxes.
"It's an extremely high priority," said Guillot. "In many cases business owners have been withholding large amounts of employment taxes from their employees and not [sending] them over to the Treasury."
The IRS says its visiting revenue officers are trained tax civil enforcement employees who work to resolve compliance issues, such as missing returns or taxes owed.
During their in-person visits, the IRS revenue officers will interview taxpayers in order to gather financial information and provide those who owe the necessary steps to become and remain tax compliant.
When necessary, said the IRS in announcing the visits, the revenue agents will take the appropriate actions to collect the amount owed, following the law and respecting taxpayer rights.
Know your taxpayer rights: Now about those taxpayer rights that the revenue agents will follow … .
If you are concerned that an IRS compliance office might ring your doorbell, you might want to review ahead of time the agency's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR).
This set of 10 fundamental rights that was officially adopted by the IRS in 2014. The rights subsequently were codified when Congress in 2015 added them to the Internal Revenue Code.
Federal law now requires the IRS commissioner to ensure that IRS employees are familiar with and act in accordance with the TBOR.
You can find them in IRS Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer.
The one that might be of most interest in the case of facing an IRS representative in person is #9: The Right to Retain Representation. That right says:
Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.
Watch out for scams: Another concern with these visits is the possibility that crooks could use them, as they do so many other real and normal tax actions, as hooks for scams.
That fear is why the IRS announced the states where it's conducting in-person compliance visits. The hope is that will mean folks both in the three target states and elsewhere won't fall for fake compliance scams where con artists pretend to be IRS agents.
As the IRS noted (and cited early in this post), this type of in-person compliance contact from a revenue officer is almost always unannounced. That goes against the usual IRS stance that taxpayers typically aren't surprised by real IRS agent out-of-the blue phone calls or visits.
To help protect taxpayers from criminals impersonating IRS agents, the IRS points out that its legitimate agents will always provide two forms of official credentials. Both these IDs will include a serial number and photo of the IRS employee. Taxpayers will have the right to view each of the credentials.
Note, too, that while the visit itself is unannounced, you should have heard from the IRS earlier, probably many times if it's come to the in-person visit level, via regular snail mail about the tax issues.
Finally, where you have an outstanding federal tax debt, the visiting IRA agent will ask for payment, but not immediately in full. The compliance office will provide the tax debtor a range of payment options.
Leveling tax paying playing field: While the visits might be disconcerting (to say the least) to the folks who find themselves face-to-face with an IRS employee, the tax agency said in the long run the outreach should benefit both the IRS and taxpayers.
Guillot it will create a more level playing field where the IRS has a presence with all taxpayers.
"It's not just the high balance due taxpayers," he said. "These expanded visits we're doing are going to enable us to get into those communities and have that presence established. We think this is going to help us enhance a more balanced and fair administration of the tax laws."
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