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The IRS and Your Rights

If you are trying to resolve your tax issues with the Internal Revenue Service, you should understand that U.S. law requires the agency to respect your rights. Those rights are outlined in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that the IRS adopted in 2014.

While the rights were previously included in various parts of the tax code, the bill of rights organized them all in one place so that they are clear, understandable, and accessible to taxpayers. Each U.S. taxpayer has the fundamental right to:

  • Be informed
  • Quality service
  • Pay no more than the correct amount of tax
  • Challenge the IRS's position and be heard
  • Appeal an IRS decision in an independent forum
  • Finality
  • Privacy
  • Confidentiality
  • Representation
  • A fair and just tax system

In the sections that follow, we will explain the 10 rights included in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and explain how they will benefit you in your dealings with the IRS.

Right to Be Informed

IRS personnel must clearly explain tax laws, agency procedures, tax forms, instructions, publications, notices, and correspondence. It also requires the IRS to notify you of any decisions it makes regarding your tax liability and clearly explain to you the outcome.

The Right to Be Informed requires the IRS to do the following:

  • Clearly explain the reasons a claim for refund was disallowed or why a tax penalty applied to you
  • Explain the audit process and collection process during in-person interviews
  • If you are filing a joint income tax return with your spouse, the IRS must explain that both of you are liable for all of the taxes due for that year, unless innocent spouse relief applies
  • Include in all collection-related notices a reference to IRS Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer
  • If the IRS is proposing a tax assessment, it must send you a letter with the audit report, proposed changes, and information regarding your right to request a review by an appeals officer within 30 days
  • Provide you with access to certain IRS records, including instructions and staff manuals
  • Send you a statutory notice of deficiency, including your right to challenge the proposed adjustment in the U.S. Tax Court, if the IRS is proposing to adjust the amount of tax you owe
  • Ensure that written guidance and correspondence are consistent and easily understood

Right to Quality Service

When interacting with the IRS, you have the right to prompt, courteous, and professional service. This includes the right to be spoken to in a manner that is easily understood and to file complaints when you believe you are receiving inadequate service.

The right to quality service requires the IRS to:

  • Include information about your right to the assistance of the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), as well as information on contacting the service, with all notices of deficiency
  • Treat you with courtesy when the IRS is collecting tax, including not contacting you at inconvenient times
  • Provide you with information about the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) if the IRS believes you qualify (generally individuals with incomes at or below 250% of the poverty line)
  • Provide the name, phone number, and identifying number of the IRS employee responsible for certain communications

Right to Pay No More Than the Correct Amount of Tax

You have the right to pay no more than the amount of tax you legally owe. You also have the right for the IRS to properly apply all of your tax payments. This means the IRS must:

  • Let you file a claim for a refund if you believe you have overpaid your taxes and you filed the claim within specified time limits
  • Request the removal of an amount of tax owed if it exceeds the correct amount due
  • Allow you to submit a settlement offer, known as an Offer in Compromise (OIC), if you legitimately doubt that you owe the IRS money
  • Send an annual statement if you have an installment agreement with the IRS that states your balance and how much you have paid during the year

Right to Challenge the IRS's Position and Be Heard

If the IRS takes action or even proposes taking action, you have the right to object and provide additional documentation. This includes the right to have the IRS consider your timely objections promptly and fairly. You also have the right to provide a response if the IRS does not agree with you.

This right requires the IRS to:

  • Provide you with a statutory notice of deficiency explaining, after you have raised objections, why the IRS is increasing your tax, and your right to petition the U.S. Tax Court before paying the tax
  • Give you the opportunity to disagree with notices of return adjustment due to mathematical or clerical error within 60 days
  • Provide you with the opportunity for a hearing before an appeals or settlement officer (immediately after filing a Notice of Federal Tax Lien) and appeal the officer's decision to the Tax Court
  • Offer you the opportunity for a hearing in front of an independent appeals or settlement officer before the IRS takes its first action to collect a tax debt through a levy

Right to Appeal an IRS Decision to an Independent Forum

You have the right to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most decisions by the IRS, including the assessment of penalties. If the IRS's Office of Appeals conducts the administrative appeal, you have the right to a written decision. Additionally, you will usually have the right to appeal an IRS decision in court.

Your appeal right means the IRS must:

  • Ensure the Office of Appeals is independent of the IRS office that initially reviewed your case and allow you or your representative to be present when discussing the case with the IRS
  • Provide you with the opportunity to request a conference with the Office of Appeals
  • Send you a statutory notice of deficiency, if the IRS is seeking to adjust the amount of tax you owe, that informs you of your right to challenge the proposed adjustment in Tax Court
  • Let you challenge a proposed tax adjustment in Tax Court without first paying the proposed adjustment
  • Give the Office of Appeals authority to settle your case after you have filed a petition with the Tax Court
  • Allow a taxpayer to request a collection due process hearing to dispute the first proposed levy action related to a specific tax liability, in most situations
  • Provide for an independent review of the decision when the IRS rejects an offer to settle your debt for less than the amount owed or implement a payment plan
  • File a refund suit in a federal court in most cases where you have fully paid your tax bill and the IRS has rejected your claim for a refund
  • In very limited circumstances, let you ask a court to make a determination regarding tax matters prior to an actual dispute between you and the IRS

Right to Finality

You have the right to know the amount of time you have to challenge an IRS decision. You also have the right to know the maximum amount of time the IRS has to conduct an audit of a specific tax year. The IRS must generally conduct the audit within three years of the time your income tax return was filed. This right also protects your right to know when the IRS has finished your audit.

The right to finality specifies that the IRS is required to:

  • Allow you to challenge a notice of deficiency in the Tax Court
  • Stop seeking to collect unpaid taxes 10 years from the assessment date
  • Let you file a tax refund claim within three years of filing the original return or two years from the time the tax was paid, whichever is later
  • Only subject you to one audit for each taxable year, but gives the IRS the right to reopen an audit from a previous year if it is necessary

Right to Privacy

An IRS audit or enforcement action against you must comply with U.S. law regarding your tax information and be no more intrusive than necessary. The IRS must respect your due process rights, including search and seizure protections. The right to privacy also mandates that the IRS:

  • Weigh the need for efficient collection of taxes with legitimate concerns that IRS collection actions are no more intrusive than necessary during hearings conducted by agency staff
  • Not seize any of your personal property while you have a pending request for a payment plan
  • Protect a portion of your wages from garnishment that is equal to the standard deduction along with any personal exemptions
  • Get a court's approval before seizing your personal residence and show that there is no reasonable alternative for collecting the tax debt
  • Give you a breakdown of how the money received from the sale of your property applied to your tax debt
  • Not seek intrusive and extraneous information about your lifestyle if there is no reasonable cause for believing you have not reported all of your income
  • Require you to provide additional financial documentation and information on your bank account if you offer to settle your tax debt for less than the amount owed

Right to Retain Representation

The IRS must honor your right to retain an authorized representative of your choice to represent you while you are dealing with the IRS. You must also be told that you may be eligible for help from a LITC if you can't afford to hire a representative.

The right to retain representation gives you the right to:

  • Recover certain reasonable costs from the IRS if you win your case in court
  • Suspend an IRS interview when you ask to consult with your representative
  • Select a qualified individual to represent you in your IRS interview

Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

When you are dealing with the IRS, you have the right to expect a consideration of all the facts and circumstances that might impact the amount of tax you owe, your ability to pay, or your ability to provide timely information. Additionally, the right to a fair and just tax system gives you the right to assistance from the TAS if you are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not properly resolved your tax issues.

The right to a fair and just tax system requires the IRS to:

  • Allow you to enter into a payment plan if you can't pay your tax bill in full and meet certain conditions
  • If the agency has made an assessment after the time allotted by law, in error, or in violation of the law, it must let you request elimination of the amount you owe
  • Remove interest charged as the result of the IRS's unreasonable errors or delays
  • Suspend the time limit you have for paying taxes or requesting a refund during the time you can't manage your own financial affairs due to a mental or physical health problem
  • Provide you with relief from certain penalties if you acted with reasonable care or took a tax position that had a reasonable basis
  • Consider penalties for tax preparers who take an unreasonable or reckless tax position that results in you underreporting your tax
  • Send you a statutory notice of deficiency when the IRS is proposing to adjust the amount of tax you owe

If you would like to speak to someone in the IRS regarding your rights, the TAS is an independent organization in the IRS that ensures that the agency is treating you fairly and respecting your rights.

More Questions? Contact an Attorney

If you are having tax problems and believe the IRS or its staff are not respecting your rights as a taxpayer, a local tax attorney can help. A tax attorney will understand all your rights and obligations under the tax laws and knows what actions to take when the IRS has overstepped its authority.

 

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