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Archive for National Taxpayer Advocate

The IRS’s Reliance On Antiquated Technology Poses A Continuing Risk To Tax Administration

The IRS’s Reliance On Antiquated Technology Poses A Continuing Risk To Tax Administration

In my previous blog post, I discussed the expansion of digital service options to improve taxpayers’ experiences interacting with the IRS. Here, I will discuss the desperate need for multi-year funding to modernize IRS computer systems and infrastructure. Tax administration is at risk, and the country and the IRS need a solution now more than ever.

A Supreme Court justice famously opined that “taxes are the life-blood of government.” In that vein, the IRS is responsible for collecting approximately $3.5 trillion in taxes each year – roughly 95 percent of federal revenue. In addition, the agency is tasked with administering recurring social benefits programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, and one-time financial relief programs like Economic Stimulus Payments in 2008 and Economic Impact Payments in 2020. Despite these enormous and critical responsibilities, the IRS is overwhelmingly reliant on “legacy” information technology (IT) systems – which the IRS’s IT function has defined as systems that are at least 25 years old, use obsolete programming languages (e.g., COBOL), or lack vendor support, training, or resources to maintain. A recent report published by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that 231 IT systems used by the IRS are legacy systems.

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Lessons Learned From Covid-19: The Critical Need To Improve IRS Digital Services

National Taxpayer Advocate IRS Update

Individuals, businesses, schools, and federal and state agencies all continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the IRS resumes its business operations that were partially or completely shut down at the inception of the COVID-19 national emergency, it is still facing challenges of balancing the health and safety of its employees with accomplishing its core mission: providing much-needed services for taxpayers; administering the 2020 filing season in which it has already processed over 149 million returns and issued over 119 million refunds totaling over $290 billion; guarding against identity theft, refund fraud and sophisticated cyber-attacks often exceeding 1.4 billion attempts each year; performing the extensive programming required to administer the 2021 filing season; processing any remaining Economic Income Payments (EIPs); analyzing potential legislation and preparing for another possible round of stimulus payments; providing legal and administrative guidance; incorporating new legislation changes into its operations; and deploying hundreds of Customer Service Representatives to assist with wildfire and hurricane relief efforts – all while continuing its tax enforcement efforts in a socially distanced environment. As part of the reopening, the IRS continues to evaluate what needs to be done to administer the tax laws and provide necessary taxpayer services under similar conditions in the future so that it can provide the necessary service required by taxpayers. My office will continue to advocate for improved taxpayer services regardless of the circumstances.

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Options Available Under COVID-19 Rules For Retirement Accounts And IRAs

NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

This tax tip simplifies available options for certain taxpayers that may need to withdraw money from existing retirement plans or IRAs to get cash or who may want to opt-out of the normally required retirement distribution payment, which may reduce additional taxes. Before you attempt any of these options as outlined, we encourage you to review the complete guidelines and rules for each situation and, when possible, consult a financial planning or retirement specialist first.

Option 1: Tax relief for retirement plan and IRA distributions

In certain circumstances, you may be eligible for special tax treatment for coronavirus-related distributions from traditional IRAs or retirement plan accounts.

To be eligible for relief, an individual must be a qualified individual, who is someone:
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National Taxpayer Advocate Discusses Taxpayer Challenges Arising From Pandemic

Erin M Collins: National Taxpayer Advocate

National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins released her first report to Congress identifying taxpayer challenges due to the pandemic, the CARES Act(Coronavirus Aid, Relief And Economic Security Act) and the IRS’s implementation of the Taxpayer First Act.

The report praises the IRS for acting quickly to postpone over 300 filing, payment, and other time-sensitive deadlines, provide broad relief from compliance actions under its “People First Initiative,” and disburse some 160 million Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) authorized by the CARES Act, enacted on March 27, 2020.

However, the report says that despite the IRS’s best efforts, there have been notable adverse taxpayer impacts, including:

• Taxpayers who filed a 2019 paper return and are entitled to refunds may be in for a long wait. The IRS had to suspend the processing of paper tax returns, and as of May 16, it estimated it had a backlog of 4.7 million paper returns. Although the IRS is reopening some of its core operations, it is not clear when it can open and process all the returns sitting in mail facilities.
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I Got A Notice From The IRS

I Got A Notice From The IRS

What Should I Do?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will send a notice or a letter for any number of reasons. It may be about a specific issue on your federal tax return or account, or may tell you about changes to your account, ask you for more information, or request a payment.

You can handle most of this correspondence without calling or visiting an IRS office if you follow the instructions in the document.

Before you proceed, check where the notice came from.
The first thing to do is to check the return address to be sure it’s from the IRS and not another agency.

If it’s from the IRS, the notice will have instructions on how to respond. If you want more details about your tax account, you can order a transcript.

If it’s from another agency, such as a state tax department, you’ll need to call that office for an explanation.
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The Value of “Superseding” Returns And Processing Additional $500 Stimulus Benefit For Certain Non-Filers

NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

For the IRS, like much of the country, it seems like the focus in recent weeks has been “All COVID, all the time.” The IRS is playing a central role in administering the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and other federal relief efforts, most notably by issuing Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) to more than 150 million individuals. The legal, technological, and practical challenges the agency is facing are enormous, and the IRS has moved rapidly, skillfully, and creatively to tackle these challenges, albeit hitting some processing bumps in the road.

Notwithstanding the IRS’s best intentions and efforts, taxpayers continue to face significant challenges. One month after the enactment of the CARES Act, the IRS has issued 122 million payments for a total of 207 billion dollars. However, some eligible individuals have not received the correct amounts, some deposits have been sent to discontinued or closed bank or financial accounts, and some mailing addresses will still need to be updated. Taxpayers have also complained about the IRS portal, “Get My Payment.” Nevertheless, more than 100 million people to date have successfully verified the status of their payments, and more than 8.9 million people have provided bank or financial account information to accelerate their receipt of payments. That is no small feat. The IRS continues to try to remedy any issues that arise, while keeping an eye on preventing fraud. Yet there are many tax issues unrelated to EIPs that taxpayers continue to struggle with as well.

In this blog, I will highlight several topics:
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National Taxpayer Advocate Is Ready To Virtually Serve Taxpayers

NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

The health and safety of our employees, taxpayers and tax practitioners are the Taxpayer Advocate Service’s highest priorities. Despite the challenges presented by the National Emergency around the coronavirus (COVID-19), TAS is working hard to carry out its mission of helping taxpayers resolve their IRS tax problems and protecting taxpayer rights. While our taxpayers and employees are currently faced with uncertainty in their personal lives, we want to help ease the burden of unresolved tax matters and relieve hardships to the extent possible.

Just as others have needed to adjust how they presently conduct their work, so has the Taxpayer Advocate Service. Currently, TAS is operating in a virtual environment. We have suspended all face-to-face walk-in services until further notice, but TAS continues to serve taxpayers who need our help. We are virtually communicating with taxpayers by telephone, fax and mail as best as we can, given building closures and shelter-in-place limitations in parts of the country. Many of our employees, like their fellow citizens, are teleworking and are having to adjust to school closures, new care situations, and new work processes. We appreciate your patience and understanding as our employees strive to provide the best service possible as they adjust to these new work conditions.

Taxpayers who find themselves in hardship situations or with IRS tax problems they’ve been unable to resolve directly with the IRS may contact their local TAS office by phone. Telephone numbers to each of our offices can be found at taxpayeradocate.irs.gov/contact us. Currently, we are unable to answer calls to the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate’s Case Intake Line (877-777-4778), but again, we can be reached at the local phone numbers. Taxpayers may also visit our website for tax information on common issues and the latest developments regarding the coronavirus’s impacts to TAS’s operations.
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Implementation Of New TAS Case Acceptance Procedures For Theft Refund Fraud Cases

National Taxpayer Advocate On Fraud

The IRS uses certain “filters” to detect and prevent tax refund fraud. While these filters do stop a substantial amount of fraud, they also flag hundreds of thousands of returns each year that turn out to be legitimate. This causes refund delays and often creates financial hardships. Notably, the filters have produced a dramatic increase in the number of taxpayers seeking TAS assistance. TAS’s non-identity theft refund fraud case receipts have increased nearly five-fold over the past three years – from about 18,500 cases in calendar year (CY) 2017 to about 92,000 in CY 2019. Moreover, about 72 percent of the case receipts for CY 2019 were accepted under TAS’s “economic hardship” criteria. I wrote about this issue in a Most Serious Problem in my 2019 Annual Report to Congress.

Some background: The IRS’s Return Integrity Verification Operations (RIVO) function operates filters designed to identify suspected identity theft and other non-identify theft related instances of fraud. One of these filters is designed to identify cases where a taxpayer files a fraudulent return in his or her own name (e.g., the taxpayer claims his employer withheld $7,000 in federal tax when the employer only withheld $3,000, which, if not detected, would cause the taxpayer to receive a refund of $4,000 more than the correct amount). This non-identity theft filter is operated, in IRS parlance, by the “Pre-Refund Wage Verification Hold” (PRWVH) program.
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The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel Is Now Recruiting Volunteers Of Citizens

National Taxpayer Advocate Recruiting Volunteers

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is your voice at the IRS. We take this statement seriously, as demonstrated by the work we do to help taxpayers resolve their tax problems. We do more than resolve problems, however. Part of our mission is to recommend changes that will prevent problems in the future. And in keeping with that part of our mission, we provide oversight and support for the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP), a federal advisory committee made up of citizens that listens to taxpayers, identifies major taxpayer concerns, and makes recommendations for improving IRS customer service and customer satisfaction.

The panel, established in 2002, consists of about 75 volunteers. To the extent possible, TAP members come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In addition, one member represents U.S. citizens working, living, or doing business abroad or in a U.S. territory other than Puerto Rico. To be a member of TAP, a person must be a U.S. citizen, be current with federal tax obligations, and pass a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal background check. Members cannot be federally registered lobbyists. In addition, current Department of the Treasury and IRS employees cannot serve on the panel, and former Department of the Treasury or IRS employees and former TAP members must have a three-year separation from their service to be eligible for appointment. Tax practitioner applicants must be in good standing with the IRS (meaning not currently under suspension or disbarment).
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National Taxpayer Advocate: IRS Audits In Person

IRS Audits In Person

Most of the time, the IRS accepts tax returns as you file them. However, it selects some for an additional review or audit to determine if you reported your income, expenses, and credits accurately.

If the IRS selects your return for audit (also called examination), it doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong. Once the IRS completes the examination, it may accept your return as filed or propose changes. These changes may affect the amount of tax you owe (a proposed deficiency) or your refund amount.

There are two ways to be audited – by mail, or in person. This article deals with an in-person audit.

When the IRS selects your tax return for audit, it will notify you by mail. Sometimes the IRS will follow-up with you by phone about the notice it previously sent. The notice will tell you:
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Local Taxpayer Advocates Describe Most Serious Problems Experienced By Taxpayers

NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

During February, Taxpayer Advocates Service’s Local Taxpayer Advocates (LTAs) are in Washington, D.C., presenting the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2019 Annual Report to Senators and House Members whose local offices they serve.

The law requires TAS to place at least one LTA in every state to assist taxpayers who are experiencing problems with the IRS. Over the past seven years, TAS has received an annual average of about 218,000 cases, and an annual average of about 15,000 of these cases (roughly seven percent), have been referred by congressional offices.

To facilitate coordination, TAS pairs every Senate and House office with an LTA office within the state the Senator or House member represents. LTAs work with congressional offices by sharing information about trends they are seeing in their casework and by partnering with them to disseminate information about filing deadlines, changes in the law, and other information that may be useful for taxpayers.

Once a year, typically around the first week of February, our Local Taxpayer Advocates go to Washington for our “Congressional Affairs Program.” During this “CAP” conference, they receive training on technical issues that they bring back to their local offices and teach to the case advocates they supervise, and they visit the Washington offices of the Senators and House members whose local offices they assist.
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NTA: Sharing Economy Tax Information

NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

Many taxpayers work or engage in services that are considered to be a part of the gig or shared economy services. These services often originate through peer-to-peer interactions such as ride-share programs, room rentals, and other freelance work.

Following the May 2016 hearing, Taxpayer Advocate Service worked with the IRS to create the information contained on the pages listed below to help you navigate the tax responsibilities which may apply when you work in the gig economy environment.

IRS Sharing Economy Tax Center
Watch video from the May 2016 House Small Business Committee testimony on the Sharing Economy: A Taxing Experience for New Entrepreneurs, Part I and Part II.

Related Articles: Self Employment Taxes