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Getting Out of Tax Debt

5 Ways to Get out of Debt with the IRS


Updated August 18, 2009
Dealing with IRS tax debts can be a stressful problem. Here's what one reader said about his tax debt problem:
"I owe the IRS about $30,000 for the last two years of tax returns. I have already filed the return, but I am considering the amending the return to take advantage of tax deductions I overlooked in my haste to file the returns quickly. I am also reading about Tax Amnesty. Are there special CPA's out there who deal only with this scenerio? I have seen a lot of ads promising tax freedom, but I don't want to cheat the government or to reduce my debt to nothing. I just want to try as hard as I can to pay this. Where should I start looking?"--Billy, Ohio

The problem that Billy and many others face can be easily managed using the following steps.

  1. Decide to handle this yourself or hire a tax professional.
  2. Double check your original tax returns. If you overlooked some deductions, it will be worthwhile to amend your tax return so you can lower the amount you owe.
  3. Choose the tax debt plan that best suits your current financial situation.

Do It Yourself

You can resolve your tax debts on your own if owe the IRS less than $10,000. Take a look at the 5 Ways to Get out of Tax Debt and choose an option that's best for your current financial situation.

If you owe the IRS between $10,000-$25,000, you should consider hiring a tax professional. In particular, you will need to make sure your original tax returns are accurate, and that you will be able to afford the payment plan you set up.

If you owe the IRS over $25,000, you should definitely be working one-on-one with an experienced and qualified tax professional.

Finding a Tax Professional

Ask tax pros about their credentials. A tax professional needs to be a Certified Public Accountant, Enrolled Agent, or tax attorney. Those are the only professionals allowed to practice before the Internal Revenue Service. CPAs and attorneys are limited to practicing in those states where they are licensed. Enrolled Agents can practice in any state. More tips on finding a tax professional.

Keep your costs under control. Tax professionals will charge you either an hourly rate for services rendered, or will quote you a flat fee for all services. You want your tax pro to focus on strategies and negotiation with the IRS, and less on routine data entry and paperwork. Ask your tax pro what paperwork and IRS forms you can fill out yourself, to minimize the your overall fee.

Filing late tax returns and amended returns

If you haven't filed your taxes, you are generally in a more advantageous position. That's because you can still take every tax deduction you are legally entitled to in order to reduce your tax liability. More tips on filing back taxes.

If you've already filed taxes, your tax professional should quickly review those returns to determine if they are accurate and if you were entitled to deductions you overlooked. Amending a return requires a substantial amount of paperwork and reprocessing. Amended returns must be thoroughly accurate with lots of supporting documentation, or else you risk an IRS audit. Generally speaking, you'll want your tax professional to retrieve a complete set of documentation from the IRS and compare that information to the tax documents you already have. After a thorough review of your tax situation, the tax professional will advise you whether it makes sense to file an amendment. More tips on amending your tax returns.

Tax Debt Strategies

There's five and only five strategies for getting out of debt.
  1. Installment agreement: a monthly payment plan for paying off the IRS.

  2. Partial payment installment agreement: a fairly new debt management program where you have a long term payment plan to pay off the IRS at a reduced dollar amount.

  3. Offer in Compromise: a program where you can settle your tax debts for less than what you owe. Requires making a lump sum or short term payment plan to pay off the IRS at a reduced dollar amount.

  4. Not currently collectible: a program where the IRS voluntarily agrees not to collect on the tax debt for a year or so.

  5. Filing bankruptcy: discharge your tax debts under the strict rules of a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy petition.
There's no "secret sauce" in paying off tax debts. These are the only five ways of getting out from under the IRS' aggressive debt collection tactics. If a tax pro promises you that you can save "pennies on the dollar" through an offer in compromise, that person is probably more interested in selling you something you don't need instead of focusing on your unique financial situation and determining what the best course of action is for you.

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