Every day I work with people who face tremendous tax problems: They owe taxes and are exploring what options they have to deal with it. It’s something I do every day so I was surprised to read an article that said the IRS is becoming “soft” on tax liens. You can read the article yourself here but I’ll summarize it for you:
The IRS can legally file tax liens any time a taxpayer owes money and has not fully paid it off. There are usually only limited circumstances when the IRS won’t file tax liens, including when the tax debt is for a small amount, or perhaps when the tax liability is for a deceased person who died without any assets, or when the taxpayer is in an active bankruptcy.
In the old days, the IRS would often not file a tax lien, but today, with the federal government needing revenue so badly, IRS collection folks are much more likely to file a tax lien and to to file it faster.
Of course this makes sense for the IRS: If someone owes tax money the IRS wants paid, and filing a tax lien is a a way to put pressure on the taxpayer. A tax lien also helps the IRS protect their position and increasing the odds that they will eventually get paid. Nowadays they try to file the lien as soon as they are legally allowed to do so.
We all know the IRS is a very large bureaucracy, and they make mistakes all the time, so it wasn’t a great surprise that when the IRS recently “audited” themselves that they discovered there were 210 files at two field offices that never had any contact or follow-up and accounted for a potential $6.4 million in collectible taxes. Basically, 210 files were just sitting there, being ignored. In addition to that, tax officers closed over 2,700 files and called them “uncollectable” but never gave a reason. In total, between 2002 and 2008, it was discovered that $1.4 billion in delinquent taxes were shelved rather than followed up on.
Are they getting lazy at the IRS offices? How are IRS officers deciding which files to pursue and which ones to ignore? How can we as taxpayers ever know if we are receiving fair treatment if we are hit with a tax lien while someone else who gets shelved?
The most likely answer is that there are so many “taxpayers” who are delinquent in paying their taxes or in filing their tax returns that the IRS doesn’t have the resources to deal with them all.
The IRS hasn’t gotten soft, in fact they’ve gotten much more aggressive, and busier. If you owe back taxes, you should still sleep with one eye open because the tax man will eventually come looking for you.
[Image source: austinevan]