It’s tax season, which means you should be preparing your return or getting ready to do so, if only so an identity thief doesn’t get there first and file a fake return to swipe your refund. What you should remember as you file and if you encounter any problems with the IRS is that taxpayers have specific rights that apply to everyone.
The Tax Advocate, or taxpayers’ representative within the IRS, makes available the following rights that that the agency is supposed to respect while collecting money from us.
The Right to Be Informed.
The IRS makes explanations of everything that you or your tax preparer need to know available in its publications. The Bill of Rights itself is Publication 1, and available in common languages that immigrants to the United States speak. When there’s a problem, taxpayers have the right to understand decisions that the IRS reaches and what it is they have to do.
The Right to Quality Service.
Service should be prompt (a relative term when dealing with the government) and courteous; taxpayers should be able to reach a supervisor to complain when they encounter any problems with an individual agent. Decisions should be clear, and the taxpayer’s next steps and the amount they have to pay clear.
The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.
While taxpayers may owe interest and penalties when they’re behind on taxes, the amount should be accurate. For most people, the important thing is that they’re entitled to a refund when their employers withhold too much from their tax returns.
The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.
Remember that correspondence with the IRS takes place the through the mail, and that the agency will not call you up and demand payment. When taxpayers have a dispute with the amount of tax they’ve been asked to pay, they have the right to dispute it.
The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.
In most disputes with the IRS, taxpayers will have the right to take their cases to court, and can ask the independent Office of Appeal for a written decision.
The Right to Finality.
Taxpayers should know how long they have to pay a debt and how long the IRS has to collect it, and what the deadline is to challenge something. It should also be clear when an audit has been completed.
The Right to Privacy.
In the rare case that an IRS investigation involves searching someone’s home or business and seizing property, they have the right to due process as in any criminal proceeding. The IRS also notes that inquiries will “comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary.”
The Right to Confidentiality.
Taxpayers should expect that the IRS will keep their return information confidential, and that it will take action against its own employees, tax preparers, or anyone else who gets hold of tax data and misuses it.
The Right to Retain Representation.
Taxpayers who are in a dispute with the IRS have the right to retain an attorney or another authorized representative. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics are available for taxpayers who need help or representation but can’t afford it.
The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.
Taxpayers have the right to expect that the tax system will be fair, and that the IRS will consider financial, technology, or language barriers that might affect their ability to provide information that the agency asks for or to pay the total of what they owe.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service is available for anyone having problems with normal IRS channels, and receiving its help is a right as well.
You can find the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, as well as individual fact sheets about each of these rights, on the IRS website.
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