The IRS isn't at the top of many people's lists of favorite organizations - mainly because taxes are hardly one of our favorite things to pay. But taxes are a necessary fact of life, and somebody has to collect them.
And, in fact, the IRS has the taxpayers' welfare very much in mind, says Jan Hadley, public affairs officer with the Salt Lake IRS office. "Quality and customer service are very important to us," she says.Our tax system is not simple - despite the so-called tax simplification move of a couple of years ago. The problem, says Hadley, is that the system also has to be fair, and fair is not always simple.
Frustrations arise, problems come up. But a taxpayer has certain rights, and knowing those rights can sometimes make the process smoother.
Here is the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. As a taxpayer you are entitled to:
1. FREE HELP AND INFORMATION IN PREPARING RETURNS
In addition to basic instructions provided with the tax forms, there is a great deal of other information available. Help is provided in several ways:
- Publications. The IRS offers more than a hundred free tax information publications. You can order any of these, including Publication 910, "Guide to Free Tax Services," by calling 1-800-424-FORM (3676).
- Walk-in help. If you have a specific question, take your records and go to the IRS office. The Salt Lake office is located at 465 S. Fourth East. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. 1 p.m. on Saturday.
- Telephone information. Call 1-800-424-1040, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday.
What about recent surveys that show you have a chance of getting an incorrect answer from the IRS? It can happen, says Hadley, particularly since the phone operators don't have copies of your records. And that can sometimes make a difference. If you have a complicated question, you'd be better off taking your records in for walk-in help. Or, get the answer in writing. There may be a pamphlet that spells out the answer to your question. In many other cases, you can ask for a written reply. If it turns out that IRS advice is incorrect, you will not be assessed any penalties because of it.
- If you need a copy of your tax return for an earlier year, you can get one by filling out Form 4506 and paying a small fee. If you need only certain information from a previous return, such as amount of reported income, you can get this information free by calling or visiting the office.
2. PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY
You have a right to have your personal and financial information kept confidential. Also, if the IRS asks for any information, you have a right to know why and how the information will be used.
Under the law, the IRS may share your tax information with certain state and federal agencies - under strict guidelines.
3. COURTESY AND CONSIDERATION
You are entitled to courteous and considerate treatment from IRS employees at all times. If ever you feel that you are not being treated with fairness, courtesy and consideration by an IRS employee, you should tell the employee's supervisor.
4. PAYMENT OF ONLY THE REQUIRED TAX
You have a right to plan your business and personal finances in such a way that you will pay the least tax that is due under the law. The IRS is charged with applying the law consistently and fairly to all taxpayers.
5. FAIRNESS IF YOUR RETURN IS EXAMINED
If your return is selected for examination, that does not mean you are dishonest. Returns are often randomly selected. And many examinations are handled entirely by mail.
If you are notified that your examination is to be conducted through a face-to-face interview, you have a right to ask hat the examination take place at a reasonable time and place that is convenient for both you and the IRS. You have a right to represent yourself, to have someone else accompany you, or, with proper written authorization, have someone represent you in your absence. You may record the session, providing that you let the examiner know in advance.
If any changes are proposed, you are entitled to a clear explanation of reasons for those changes.
You must pay interest on additional tax that you owe, figured from the due date on your return. But if an IRS error caused a delay in your case that was grossly unfair, you may be entitled to a reduction in the interest.
6. AN APPEAL OF EXAMINATION FINDINGS
If you do not agree with the examiner's report, you may meet with the examiner's supervisor to discuss your case further. If you still don't agree, you have the right to appeal findings. The examiner will explain your appeal rights and give you a copy of a publication that details those rights and tells you exactly how to proceed.
You can appeal the findings of an examination within the IRS through the Appeal Office, or through the courts. Depending on whether you first pay the disputed tax, you can take your case to the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Claims Court or your U.S. District Court.
If the court agrees with you and finds the IRS position to be unjustified, you may be able to recover some of your litigation expenses.
7. FAIR COLLECTION OF TAX
If you owe more tax, you will receive a bill from the IRS. You will be given a specific period of time to pay the bill in full. If that is not possible, contact the IRS. In some cases, it is now possible to work out a system of installment payments. If the IRS has to place a lien on your property, you are entitled to have the lien released promptly upon payment of the tax. You also have certain properties that are exempt from liens.
If you are told you owe more tax due to a math or clerical error on your return, you can ask for a formal "notice of deficiency" so you can dispute the tax if you wish.
8. REFUND OF OVERPAID TAX
Once you have paid all your tax, you have a right to file a claim for a refund if you think the tax is incorrect. Generally, you have three years from the date you filed the return or two years from the date you paid the tax. If you, in fact, are entitled to a refund, you will receive interest on a refund delayed more than 45 days beyond the later of either the date you filed your return or the date your return was due.
9. CANCELLATION OF PENALTIES WITH JUST CAUSE
You have the right to ask that certain penalties (but not interest) be canceled if you can show reasonable cause for the failure that led to the penalty. If you relied on wrong advice given to you by IRS employees on the toll-free telephone system, the IRS will cancel certain penalties that may result. But you have to show that your reliance on the advice was reasonable.
10. SPECIAL HELP TO RESOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS
There is a Problem Resolution Program for taxpayers who have been unable to resolve their problems with the IRS. If you have a tax problem that you cannot clear up through normal channels, write to the Problem Resolution Office in the district or service center with which you have the problem.
If the tax problem is causing or will cause you significant hardship, the office will arrange for an immediate review.
For more information on your rights as a taxpayer, you can obtain a free copy of Publication 1, "Your Rights As a Taxpayer" from any IRS office or by calling 1-800-424-FORM (3676).