Unfiled Tax Returns: Getting Help When You Don’t Know Where To Start

“I got a notice from the IRS about my unfiled taxes. It says I need to file immediately. But I don’t even know where to start,” Joanne, who lives in West Roxbury, MA, said. “I don’t know where my W-2s are; the restaurant I worked at then is out of business now. What am I going to do?”

Unfiled Tax Returns: Time is of the Essence

“The one thing you don’t want to do when you have unfiled tax returns is wait,” said Matthew J. Previte, a Massachusetts CPA who specializes in tax problems. “The longer you wait, the harder it becomes for someone like me to help you. After 10 years, it becomes impossible to get certain information from the IRS. But if you’re in that window, it’s still possible for a tax professional to get the information you need from the IRS.”

“Filing your return is important,” Previte notes, “because if you don’t file, the IRS will file a return for you. When the IRS creates what is known as a Substitute For Return (SFR), they’re not acting in your best interest. They don’t look for the deductions you’re eligible for, or identify the most favorable filing status for your situation. They’re just after their money!”

Unfiled Tax Returns: You Deserve Help

Don’t try filing your late tax returns on your own. You deserve the help of an experienced tax professional who will prepare an accurate return that helps you minimize your tax obligation. Why pay more taxes than you have to?

IRS deadlines are nothing to trifle with! When you receive a notice from the IRS, you need to act on it right away. Get help from a qualified MA tax professional. Getting your tax problems solved will stop the stress. Call right away. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where to start or don’t have your W-2s or 1099s. We can help you!

What Happens If I Don’t File My Taxes for 3 Years?

“Back in 2010, I had a rough year. My Dad died, work was nuts – it just wasn’t a good time,” Glenn , who lives in Southborough, MA, shook his head. “Did I do everything I was supposed to? No.  I didn’t file my income tax that year. Was I intentionally doing something wrong? No – but the fact I didn’t file in 2010 prevented me from filing in 2011 or 2012. What’s going to happen to me?”

Unfiled Tax Returns: Your Questions Answered

Not filing a tax return on time is one of the most common tax problems.  The IRS estimates that 10 million people fail to file their taxes in any given year: if you have unfiled tax returns, you’re not alone.

“I thought the IRS was going to catch up with me right away,” Glenn said. “I expected a knock on my door way back in May 2010. But nothing happened. Now I’m not sure if I slipped through the cracks or if the IRS is going to come after me tomorrow. It’s very stressful.”

Having unfiled tax returns is like walking across a minefield – without any minesweeping equipment! You never know when the whole situation is going to blow up in your face. The truth is that it’s very difficult to predict exactly when the IRS is going to come after you. The IRS’ enforcement capabilities have increased with advances in technology: they’re pursuing unfiled returns much faster than was previously the case. If you haven’t filed your taxes, you should know it’s only a matter of time until you’ll hear from the IRS.

Turn the Situation Around: Get Help Now

Choose an experienced tax problem solver to handle your unfiled tax return situation. It’s always better to file your tax returns before the IRS contacts you!

That way you’ll have an accurate understanding of what your financial situation is. Working with an experienced MA tax professional, you may discover that you owe less taxes than you thought – or that you’re actually entitled to a tax refund! It happens more often than you might think.

Being proactive about your unfiled tax returns buys you time to act strategically. Having more time to find deductions, gather bank statements, and handle all of the other paperwork associated with filing late tax returns is always advantageous to the taxpayer.

Finally, having your MA tax problem solver handle your unfiled tax returns helps you avoid criminal prosecution.  “I really didn’t want to go to jail for criminal failure to file,” Glenn said. “I’m just starting to get my life turned around and back on the right track! Going to jail is not part of my plan.”

While criminal prosecution against taxpayers who fail to file is relatively rare, it’s important to know that IRS policy is generally not to pursue action against taxpayers who voluntarily file late tax returns.  Avoid expensive fines and penalties, as well as the stress and anxiety that comes from living with unpaid tax returns, by getting help now. It’s never too late to file a tax return!

Owe Back Taxes? You Should Know A Wage Levy Can Cost You More Than Your Paycheck

If you have unpaid back taxes, you should know that the IRS and MA DOR can collect the money you owe from the money you earn from your job. This is known as a wage levy, and it can really disrupt your life. Instead of getting the paycheck you expected, you get a few dollars – with the remainder going directly to the IRS or MA DOR to settle your back tax debt.

The Impact of a Wage Levy on Your Life

The first is fairly obvious: when the IRS or MA DOR issues a wage levy, suddenly, you have a lot less money coming into the household. How are you going to pay your bills, buy groceries, or put gas in the car when you have no money?

The situation can spiral out of control quickly. If you, like many people, have your bills automatically taken out of your bank account, an IRS or MA DOR wage levy can create a situation where you have insufficient funds in your account. This can quickly create an expensive nightmare of overdraft fees, late payment charges, and other financial penalties imposed by your creditors and your bank.

That’s not all. An IRS or MA DOR wage levy can really hurt your relationship with your employer. Depending on the type of work you do, the fact that you have significant tax trouble can even be cause for termination. Massachusetts is an at-will employment state, so if your employer feels that your tax wage levy reflects badly on the company, creates an incentive for embezzlement, or is simply too much paperwork for them to deal with, they can legally let you go. Even if you keep your job, your relationship with your employer can be damaged by a wage levy.

People who are self-employed aren’t exempt from income levies, either. The IRS and MA DOR have been known to reach out directly to the people you do business with to collect delinquent taxes. This can really have a negative impact on your business – and your life!

Finally, wage levies can really wreak havoc in your personal life. Money is the number one reason couples fight – and suddenly having less money in the household budget due to a tax wage levy is almost guaranteed to cause disruption. If your partner was unaware of your unpaid tax problems, a wage levy is really not the best way for them to find out!

What Can Be Done About A Wage Levy?

Wage levies can cause real hardship in your life. Working with a Massachusetts tax professional who specializes in tax problem resolutions is the best way to get the stress and financial burden of a wage levy to stop. 

There are several routes to having a wage levy released, including settling your back taxes through an offer in compromise, entering a qualified payment plan, by filing bankruptcy (which may or may not discharge some or all of your tax debts), being declared uncollectible by the IRS or MA DOR, or paying off your back taxes in full. Working with a tax problem solving expert, you’ll learn which option is best for you, considering your individual circumstances.  Help is available!

If you’ve been struggling with a wage levy, call us today. We’re here to help you find an answer to your tax problems. It’s never too late to turn your life around.

Where’d My Paycheck Go? Understanding IRS Wage and Income Levies

When Tom S. got a call from HR, he knew it wasn’t good news. “They wanted me to go down there, so I went down there and they told me that they’d gotten a notice from the IRS. Because I had unpaid taxes, the IRS was levying my paycheck. I’d have 125 dollars left after the levy was taken out from each paycheck until all my back taxes were paid off – so I was looking at the next 3 months with hardly no money to live on!”

IRS Wage and Income Levies: Your Employer Has To Comply!

“I asked HR if there was some way they could let things slide, just for a week or two, so I could get prepared for the financial hit,” Tom said. “But they told me no way. If a company doesn’t do what the IRS tells them, they could get hit with huge penalties and fines.” Tom sighed. “By the time that conversation was over, it was pretty clear to me that I was lucky to have a job at all.”

Many people don’t know that it’s perfectly legal for your employer to terminate your employment if you have tax trouble with the IRS or MA DOR.  Having tax problems can be seen as a motivation to commit embezzlement – and no one wants to have a potential criminal working for them!

Types of Wage and Income Levies

There are two types of IRS wage and income levies. A continuous levy is generally brought against someone who has an employer and receives a regular paycheck. A non-continuous levy is generally brought against someone who receives a form 1099-MISC, and is considered self-employed. If you’re self-employed, you can imagine how embarrassing and stressful it would be to have the IRS contacting the people you do business with directly trying to collect your tax debts. It’s the type of thing that can ruin your business reputation.

What Can Be Done About Wage and Income Levies

If you receive notice that the IRS is going to levy your wages or other income, you want to get help right away. An experienced tax professional can work with the IRS on your behalf to resolve your tax issues and have the wage or income levy released. This can mean setting up a payment plan with the IRS, making an offer in compromise, or taking advantage of other legal means to solve your tax problems.

You have to take action! A wage or income levy won’t go away on its own, and every day it’s in place is a day that’s damaging your reputation with your employer or customers. If you’re dealing with a wage or income levy now, and you want the pain to stop, give us a call. We’re here to help!

Fixing Your Tax Problems to Repair Your Credit: What You Need To Know

“They say love makes the world go round, but that’s not true,” Sal M., who lives in Spencer, MA, said. “It’s money – or more correctly, credit! – that matters. If you don’t have good credit, you can’t do anything in this world. You can’t buy a house, you can’t start a business, you can’t go to school – I can’t even get a car that runs halfway decent because my credit’s all screwed up!”

Tax Liens Can Hurt Your Credit

Many people don’t realize that their tax problems can hurt their credit. When you owe money to the IRS or MA DOR (or both!), and you don’t pay your tax debt, you can wind up with tax liens. Tax liens are public record, which means anyone can find out about them. All of the credit rating agencies use tax lien information against you when determining your credit score.

A good credit score is, as Sal discovered, essential to the way we live our lives today. Even the US Government seems to have figured that out. That’s why there are special incentive programs in place to encourage delinquent taxpayers to resolve their tax issues and repair their credit.

Don’t Try To Fix Your Tax Problems On Your Own!

Working with a skilled, experienced firm that specializes in solving tax problems gives you the widest range of options when it comes to having your tax liens released or withdrawn. The IRS and MA DOR are not in the business of advising tax payers how to best solve their tax problems and restore their credit – they’re focused on collecting the maximum amount they can from you.

You May Qualify for a Fresh Start to Fix Your Credit

The Fresh Start Initiative allows delinquent tax payers who meet specific qualifications to take steps to repair their credit. If you owe the IRS less than $25,000 and can comply with a direct debit payment plan, after you’ve made 3 payments, you can request a lien withdrawal from the IRS.

This is only one of the ways you may qualify for the Fresh Start Initiative. Your experienced tax problem solver will fill you in on other available options to obtain a lien withdrawal. All tax lien withdrawals have a very positive impact on your credit rating. Be aware that you’re required to remain in full compliance with the tax laws going forward, and it’s an opportunity that’s only available once.

Is the Fresh Start Initiative right for you? The best way to get an answer to that question is to consult with an experienced tax professional. Schedule your free, no-obligation consultation today to discover how you can fix your credit and get your life back on track!

Massachusetts Property Owners: Tax Liens Can Keep You From Selling Your Property

“I don’t want to go into details, but for a number of reasons, our financial situation had really gotten out of hand,” Megan R., who lives outside of Worcester said. “There were some medical expenses; my husband’s start up never actually succeeded…we needed a lot of money, and we needed it fast. The real estate market is finally picking up, so I took a deep breath and said, ‘Honey, I think it’s time we sell the house.’”

Megan sighed. “That’s when my husband looked at me and said, “We can’t sell the house.”  Megan had little suspected that her husband was keeping a big secret from her: the couple owed the IRS nearly $100,000 in back taxes. The situation was so dire that the IRS had placed a lien on their home. “Until that lien was taken care of,” Megan said, “we couldn’t sell the house!”

What Is A Tax Lien?

The IRS and Massachusetts Department of Revenue are in the business of making sure you pay your tax debt. If you don’t, they have a number of harsh and effective tools to use to force you to pay up. A tax lien is one of those tools. Basically, a tax lien is a written legal claim against your property notifying the public that you owe a tax authority – either the IRS or the Massachusetts Department of Revenue – some taxes that you haven’t yet paid.

A tax lien attaches to your property and clouds the title. Until your tax issue is resolved, no one can buy the property without the lien attached. Any time a potential buyer does a title search – a basic part of the home buying process, and one that all mortgage companies insist on – the lien is revealed. Buying the property means buying the tax debt – and that’s something very few home buyers (and no mortgage companies!) are willing to do.

What Can Be Done About A Tax Lien?

There is a lot of misinformation floating around on the internet about the best way to handle a tax lien on your property. The truth is that every tax problem is unique, and there’s no one-size fits all solution.

Your best choice is to connect with a CPA who works solely on solving tax problems for expert advice and guidance. Don’t try to face the IRS on your own. A knowledgeable Massachusetts tax expert can work with the IRS or Massachusetts Department of Revenue to find a solution to your tax problem.

 It may even be possible to reduce the total amount of tax you need to pay through a mechanism known as an Offer in Compromise.  When you’ve paid off this reduced debt, the IRS will release the lien, and then you’re free to sell the property.

Don’t give up hope! Every tax problem has a solution.  But you have to take action! Tax liens don’t go away on their own.  If you’re ready to get your life back, and be able to sell your property the way you want to, your tax situation needs to be addressed.  The time is now!

How to Avoid The Filing of An IRS Federal Tax Lien

By Matthew J. Previte CPA MST
www.taxproblemsrus.com
July 20, 2011

Federal tax liens filed by the IRS for unpaid back taxes can cause serious damage to many areas of your life. IRS tax liens can not only ruin your credit rating but also cause problems with employers. Companies often pass up on hiring an otherwise qualified candidate because of IRS tax liens on the candidate’s credit report. Employers in some industries, (banking, finance, legal, accounting, law enforcement, or government agencies requiring security clearances) often have to terminate employees due to IRS tax problems when they discover an IRS tax lien has been filed against their employee.

For well known public figures (politicians, celebrities, etc.), IRS federal tax liens can do great damage to your reputation once the local press gets a hold of the news that the IRS has filed a federal tax lien on you for unpaid back taxes. Often they will publish news of your IRS tax problems for the world to see causing not only embarrassment and humiliation but damage to personal and business relationships.

So what can you do to avoid the IRS filing a federal tax lien?

Once a federal tax is assessed, the IRS collection cycle begins. Besides the usual IRS collection letters threatening to levy and seize your assets, the IRS will eventually issue a federal tax lien and file it in the public record as notice to the public that you owe back taxes to the IRS. The trick to avoiding the filing of a federal tax lien is to be proactive before the federal tax lien is filed by the IRS.

In lieu of a federal tax lien, the IRS can in many cases accept a Collateral Agreement which protects the government’s interest so they do not have to file a federal tax lien. The three most common assets used as collateral are: (1) letters of credit from a lender, (2) securities, or (3) surety bonds. There are other assets that can be used but these three are the most common and can go a long way towards getting a Collateral Agreement accepted quickly to avoid the filing of a federal tax lien.

So, avoiding the filing of an IRS tax lien is possible. It just takes knowledge of the Collateral Agreement process and approaching the IRS early in the collection cycle before they issue a federal tax lien. An experienced tax CPA or tax attorney is best suited to help you with this process as they know how to properly draft a Collateral Agreement, negotiate with the IRS, and get the Collateral Agreement accepted.

Getting Rid of IRS Tax Liens and Fixing Your Credit Report

By Matthew J. Previte CPA MST
www.taxproblemsrus.com
July 12, 2011

Nothing can kill your credit rating like an IRS tax lien. Your credit report can drop about 100 points after an IRS tax lien is filed in the public record. Having a federal tax lien on your credit record can eliminate many lenders from loaning you funds to buy a house, a car, or to refinance your existing loan to get a more favorable rate. So just how do you deal with an IRS tax lien and fix the mess it has left in its wake? Well, to explain how, we need to start with what is an IRS tax lien, when does it come into existence, and how does one get it off your credit report.

IRS tax liens are filed in the public record to protect the federal government’s interest in IRS tax debts owed to it by you, the taxpayer. It is kind of like the IRS’s insurance policy. If you have any real estate or personal assets, the IRS tax lien attaches to it and allows the IRS to pursue enforced collection action (liens, levies, seizures) against your assets in order to collect what you owe them.

All IRS tax liens come into existence upon the assessment of a federal tax against a taxpayer. This usually happens when you file a tax return and it is processed by the IRS. However, federal tax assessments may also come into existence when the IRS audits your tax return, adjusts your tax return due to a mistake or missing W-2 or 1099, or they file a substitute tax return against you because you didn’t file a tax return. However the federal tax assessment came into existence, the IRS tax lien exists but is not effective against certain assets (like real estate) until it is perfected under state law by the filing of a federal tax lien in the public record.

The federal tax lien is filed in one of several places to insure it becomes public notice that you have an IRS tax problem and that the IRS has a federal tax lien securing the back taxes owed by you, the taxpayer, against your assets. Where an IRS tax lien is filed depends on state law. Some of the most common places the IRS files a federal tax lien is with one of the following: the Registry of Deeds or County Recorder, the office of county clerk, the office of town clerk, the office of probate judge, or the clerk of the circuit court. There are a few other places for some states but we won’t list them all here. The point is, state law controls where the IRS has to file its federal tax lien to be considered public notice that you owe them back taxes and that they have a claim against your assets. Most states have one place where federal tax liens need to be filed to be considered valid as against real estate while they have another place for IRS tax liens filed against personal property. To be sure, one must research their state’s law to determine where it requires federal tax liens to be filed.

To obtain a certificate of release of federal tax lien, one of several things has to happen. Either you have to full pay the tax, settle your tax debts through an Offer In Compromise and full pay the settlement amount, run out the statute of limitations on collection, or discharge the back taxes in bankruptcy. If there is real estate when you discharge any back taxes owed, the IRS will not release the lien until it expires. Liens generally last ten years but can be refiled if for some reason the collection statute has been extended beyond 10 years. There are several events that can extend the collection statute but we will discuss that in another article.

Keep in mind that with bankruptcy, some types of taxes are never dischargeable and for those types that are, you must have filed tax returns and wait certain periods of time before the taxes become dischargeable. There are also other rules beyond whether the taxes are old enough and of the proper type which must be met before one can qualify to file bankruptcy and discharge back taxes in bankruptcy. You should always consult a qualified tax resolution specialist as well as a bankruptcy attorney before filing. Otherwise, you may be surprised after you come out of bankruptcy court and the IRS is in hot pursuit, threatening to levy and seize every asset in sight.

To fix your credit rating, one must obtain a certificate of withdrawal of federal tax lien. A certificate of release of federal tax lien will not do as it only demonstrates that the IRS tax debts have been resolved to the satisfaction of the IRS. The problem with a certificate of release of federal tax lien is that it effectively lets the world know you have resolved your back tax debts but it does not remove the fact that at one time you owed the IRS back tax debts. Mailing a copy of the IRS certificate of release of federal tax lien to the big three credit agencies (Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian) only helps them update your credit file and notate that you have resolved your outstanding back taxes with the IRS. The original federal tax lien will stay on your credit report, along with the notation that it has been resolved, for 7 years. This hardly restores your credit score to its former level pre-IRS lien.

Obtaining a certificate of withdrawal of federal tax lien necessitates first requesting and receiving a release of federal tax lien with one exception which we will discuss in a bit. Once the back tax debt has been resolved through normal means (either full paid, discharged in bankruptcy—with no real estate owned, settled through an Offer In Compromise, or the collection statute has expired) and a certificate of release of federal tax lien has been requested by the taxpayer and issued by the IRS, then a request can be made for a certificate of withdrawal of the federal tax lien and the IRS will issue a certificate of withdrawal of federal tax lien.

As stated above, there is one exception where there is no need to obtain a certificate of release of federal tax lien first before requesting a certificate of withdrawal of federal tax lien. In fact the strange thing is that IRS procedure does not allow for a certificate of release of federal tax lien to be issued unless one of the above four criteria is met but it will allow a certificate of withdrawal of federal tax lien to be issued under new guidelines if the taxpayer enters into a Direct Debit Installment Agreement. Only certain taxpayers qualify to enter into a Direct debit Installment Agreement and they must meet one of several eligibility requirements as well.

Due to the current state of our economy, the IRS realized that the filing of federal tax liens was doing great damage to people’s credit ratings and their ability to borrow money for life’s necessities (car, home, college tuition, etc). So, they developed a new program that would allow those taxpayers who have resolved their tax debt or entered into a Direct Debit Installment Payment Agreement and that are currently compliant with all tax filings and current tax estimates or withholding levels, to request a withdrawal of federal tax lien. What the withdrawal effectively does is eliminate the effect of the original federal tax lien. It’s as if the original federal tax lien should have never been filed by the IRS in the first place. With a certificate of withdrawal of federal tax lien in hand, you can effectively remove and completely eliminate any trace of the federal tax lien from your credit report as if it never existed.

All IRS Payment Agreements Are Not Equal

By Matthew J. Previte CPA MST
www.taxproblemsrus.com
July 7, 2011

If you owe back taxes to the IRS, you have undoubtedly wondered how on earth you’re going to get a mountain of back IRS taxes off your back so you won’t have to live in fear anymore. Living with IRS tax problems is stressful and can cause many problems in your life. One of these IRS tax problems is having an IRS tax levy placed on your wages or bank accounts which leaves you with little to no money to live on. An IRS tax lien can also be filed against you in the public record (usually the county recorder or registry of deeds) which not only lets the world know about your IRS tax problems but severely damages your credit rating by a good 100 points or more, leaving you unable to get a loan. So what can you do to resolve your IRS tax problems?

Although Offer In Compromise is advertised heavily on late night TV, it is rarely an option for most people with back IRS tax debts. Roughly 95% of delinquent taxpayers with IRS tax debts do not qualify for the IRS Offer In Compromise program. Unfortunately, these late night TV hucksters tout the OIC as the magical cure-all for your IRS tax debt woes. There is an old saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And so it is with the Offer In Compromise program. Although my tax resolution firm has filed many Offers In Compromise over the last 16 years, most of our clients who owe large back taxes to the IRS do not qualify. Simply put, they have too much equity in assets (bank accounts, houses, retirement accounts, etc) and/or cash flow (what’s left over after what the IRS allows for basic living expenses) to qualify. So that begs the question, what are my options?

While bankruptcy can sometimes be a good option, we will leave that discussion for another article (see archives for February 2011). Short of running out the statute of limitations on collection, which is generally ten years, or hitting the lottery or inheriting a boatload of money and paying off the IRS tax debts in full, the only option left is an installment agreement. However, not all installment agreements are equal.

The IRS has two different types of installment agreements to pay off back taxes. The first type is a Full Pay Installment Agreement. In this type of IRS installment agreement, the monthly payments are sufficient to pay off the back taxes (plus any penalties and interest that accrues) until it is paid off in full. With this type of IRS installment agreement, your payments will full pay the back IRS tax debts, as well as all penalties and interest accruing on the debt, within the statute of limitations on collection. The statute of limitations on collection is generally 10 years. However, there are numerous actions that can extend the time the IRS has to pursue collection action (liens, levies, seizures, etc). We will leave that to another article to discuss.

The second type of IRS installment agreement is called a Partial Pay Installment Agreement. Under this type of IRS installment agreement, the monthly payment is insufficient to pay off the back taxes plus accruing penalties and interest by the collection statute expiration date. What does this mean in plain English? Well, it means that you make payments until the statute of limitations on collection (in IRS speak the “CSED”) runs out. So if at the collection statute expiration date there is $10,000 of unpaid back tax debt, it expires to zero and you do not owe it anymore. Nice huh? There is one catch however. As part of the terms of the Partial Pay Installment Agreement, the IRS will review your financial condition every two years to see whether or not your financial condition (i.e. your ability to pay more) has improved. If it has, they will require a higher payment if your financial condition shows you can afford to pay more towards the back tax debt. The downside of this type of installment agreement is it is possible that in the future your financial condition improves and the new monthly payment required becomes sufficient to full pay the back taxes, penalties, and interest by the collection statute expiration date. In other words, it’s possible to start out with a Partial Pay Installment Agreement and end up with a Full Pay Installment Agreement. The positive aspect of a Partial Pay Installment Agreement is that if your financial condition does not improve enough or at all, you could still end up paying less than the full amount owed and end up with a large balance of unpaid back taxes expiring to zero at the collection statute expiration date.

With all IRS Installment Payment Agreements, your financial condition is reviewed via a Form 433-A and/or 433-B depending on whether your tax issues are personal or business tax debts. Individuals and sole proprietorships use the Form 433-A while corporations, partnerships, and LLCs use a Form 433-B. If you owe personal taxes and have income on your personal tax return from a flow through entity (S corporation, partnership, or LLC treated as an S corporation or partnership), you may have to submit both the Form 433-A and the Form 433-B to get your installment payment agreement approved.

There are strategies to minimize your monthly payment amount but that will be discussed in a future article. Also, just because the IRS initially denies your IRS installment payment agreement does not mean you should give up. Many initially rejected IRS installment payment agreements were later accepted upon filing an Appeal to the IRS Appeals Division. Persistence and perseverance are key to obtaining a fair IRS installment agreement that you can live with.

Finding A Good Tax Attorney, Tax CPA, or Tax EA to Fix Your IRS Tax Problems

By Matthew J. Previte CPA
www.taxproblemsrus.com
July 6, 2011

Finding a competent tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA to represent you before the IRS can be a daunting task. Fixing IRS tax problems is a tricky business left to those who do it full time year round. Although any attorney, CPA, or EA (enrolled agent—takes 2 day test on federal taxes given by the U.S. Treasury) is legally allowed to represent you before the IRS, not every attorney, CPA, or EA is qualified or competent enough to do so. IRS tax problems are a specialty requiring full time dedication to learning how the IRS works and how to work within that system to fix IRS tax problems.

Very few attorneys have any experience in dealing with the IRS on a daily basis much less a few times a year. Although some attorneys pursue and obtain a Master of Laws degree (LLM), this does not necessarily mean they know how to resolve IRS tax problems since most Masters programs in Taxation have but one general survey course on IRS practice and procedure. A good tax attorney will have represented hundreds or thousands of people with IRS tax problems before the IRS and rarely will they practice in this area less than full time.

CPAs and EAs are also legally able to represent taxpayers before the IRS. Although most are competent in preparing tax returns, most CPAs and EAs do not have any experience in fixing IRS tax problems on a regular basis. They are lucky if they see one or two cases a year. CPAs and EAs greatly shy away from taking on an IRS tax problem client because they have no experience resolving messy complicated IRS tax problems or they fear they won’t get paid since the client owes huge amounts of money to the IRS.

One of the first things you should do in searching for a competent tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA is Google their name. See if there are any negative articles or postings on websites about them. If you find a lot of complaints or bad reviews, beware! A good tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA should have very few if any complaints out there. Check also with their state licensing board to see whether any complaints have been filed against them.

Second thing you should do is make sure they have a current license. This is easy enough to check out online as most state licensing boards post the names of licensees and whether or not their license is current or has expired. If you are researching an EA, you will have to call the IRS Director of Practice in Washington D.C. or look on their website (irs.gov).

Next, I would check out their website. What type of content do they have. Do they give you their address, phone number, and email address. Many tax resolution firms on the net only have a contact page for you to email them your name and address and a description of your IRS tax problem. They have no information about who they are, key officers or employees, where they are located, etc. This should be a tip off that you’re dealing with a fly by night operation. If their site has little content or makes guarantees about what they can achieve, even without getting any information from you, watch out! There are a lot of scam artists and snake oil salesmen on the internet. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

The size of the organization should also be a clue as to how you will be treated. Large national tax resolution firms usually operate on volume. Their goal is to sell as many people as they can usually with little or no regard to actually providing good service and most importantly fixing your IRS tax problems. Their salespeople are almost never tax attorneys, tax CPAs, or tax EAs but unqualified sales reps who haven’t the foggiest idea of how to fix even the most basic of tax problems. Oh sure, they will tell you all the right things to make you believe their tax resolution firm can make all your IRS tax problems go away. Problem is, they haven’t a clue as to nature of your IRS tax problem and how to fix it since they have absolutely zero experience fixing IRS tax problems. They’re sales reps! A small tax resolution firm will have experienced tax attorneys, tax CPAs, and/or tax EAs on staff to answer calls from prospective clients. This assures that the prospective client with the IRS tax problem is speaking with a licensed tax professional who understands IRS tax problems and how to fix them.

The quality of service that large tax resolution firms offer tends to be haphazard, inconsistent, and unreliable. Small tax resolution firms are much more suited to providing great service since they are able to respond quickly without clients getting lost in the shuffle. Without all the layers of management and bureaucracy that large national firms have, small tax resolution firms can deal with issues in a more timely manner. Large national firms often give you an unlicensed “case representative” as your point of contact instead of the licensed tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA who is actually representing you. This is a big red flag. If you can’t have access to the licensed tax professional actually representing you, run away as fast as you can. You WILL experience frustration since you will almost never speak, if at all, with the licensed tax professional representing you.

One other issue that should be discussed is the location of the tax resolution firm. There are national firms and local firms. Which would you rather hire, a firm hundreds or thousands of miles away or a local firm you can actually meet with face to face. There is nothing like looking someone in the eye to get a sense of their honesty and integrity. Seeing their office in person will tell you how they run their operation. Does it appear to be smoothly operating or in a state of chaos. A local firm is also much more accountable since they live and work in the community or state where you live. Maintaining their reputation is far more important than a firm thousands of miles away. I would exercise extreme caution hiring anyone you can’t hop in the car and meet with face to face. That doesn’t mean work can’t be done via fax, phone, email, and Fedex. However, meeting your tax representative face to face at least once before you hire them tells you a lot about them, their firm, and how you can expect to be treated after you hire them to fix your IRS tax problems.

So before hiring any tax attorney, tax CPA, or tax EA to help you fix your IRS tax problems, check them out carefully and spend the time to look in depth at their track record, any complaints on the web or with state licensing boards (the IRS Director of Practice if an EA). And, use your gut. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your due diligence and get educated on the different types of resolutions available to people with IRS tax problems. That way, you will be able to sort out the scam artists and snake oil salemen from the good competent licensed tax professionals out there.