20th Sep 2016
When a tax problem goes on long enough, or gets big enough, the IRS will move the case out of automated collections to a local Revenue Officer for enforcement.
That’s when you get the knock on the door and the pit in your stomach as they hand you their business card and ask to speak with you for a moment.
They say they want to “work with you”.
You know they’re not there to help you. You know that the conversation you are having with them is incredibly important, likely determining your fate with every passing moment, every innocuous exchange. But, out of a desperate desire to avoid reality, we begin to trust this person is acting with our interests in mind.
To be clear: they are not.
To be more clear: that doesn’t mean that Revenue Officers are not good people or are not to be trusted. My point is that they do not have your interests in mind. They are not required to. Here is a short list of things they are not required to discuss with you:
- All your options for resolving your tax problems.
- Advantageous ways to present your financial situation.
- Ways to change the RO’s mind about things.
- Ways to deal with a difficult RO.
- ….you get the picture…
This brings me to one of my biggest, chronic issues I have with Revenue Officer dynamics, generally: their propensity to suggest they can help, which discourages hiring an advocate to help or seeking help from a clinic.
Taxpayers have rights, as IRS has made clear in their Bill of Rights. To me, the RO context is the most dangerous for an unrepresented taxpayer. I think it is malpractice for a lawyer to tell someone to proceed in that venue without representation. The stakes are too high, the Revenue Officers hold all the cards, and are under a ton of institutional pressure to be active and aggressive. But I hear about preparers who tell their troubled clients to engage Revenue Officers on their own all the time.
I’m not suggesting that RO managers are yelling at RO’s to issue more levies. I don’t believe it is that overt. Rather, my experience is that many RO’s are near-overwhelmed with work that keeps coming to them, leaving them to work their cases in fits and starts and get behind. Then, once they are behind, they catch up through enforcement or overly-mechanical adherence to procedure.
The significance of this to me is that it presents an opportunity for my clients – to help them by helping the RO’s on their cases: present a Revenue Officer with a proposal that you know will pass procedural muster, will resolve the case, and hopefully includes some good faith elements (call me to talk about our sell-the-Buick approach). Then, follow up regularly. Giving RO’s a means for resolving the case in your client’s favor before they get entrenched in their own presumption about what needs to happen, and you make it easier to do their job by helping your client.
But, there are very few unrepresented taxpayers who will happen upon such a proposal on their own. To me, experienced representation is absolutely necessary to assure a safe, successful RO case outcome.
So, go set up your own Streamlined Installment Agreements, taxpayers. Try your own Penalty Abatement requests. But, leave the Revenue Officer negotiations to the professionals, even if your Revenue Officer is telling you they want to “work with you”. Get someone who will work for you.