When you can’t pay your taxes or are having problems resolving issues with the IRS, what are your options? You might be able to use an accountant, but many people in such a financial position try to file taxes on their own and don’t have an accountant.
You definitely aren’t out of options. The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) helps people resolve tax issues with the IRS. The service doesn’t cost anything, but you must be approved to use the service.
In this article, you’ll learn what TAS does, the types of cases that get approved, and when you should contact a taxpayer advocate.
What Is the Taxpayer Advocate Service?
TAS is an independent organization within the IRS. That may sound like an oxymoron, but the TAS has laid out clear guidelines on how it helps people with tax issues concerning the IRS.
There are four types of cases that the TAS will take on, as outlined in their publication, Taxpayer Advocate Service Clarifies Case Acceptance Criteria:
- The taxpayer is experiencing financial hardship and needs expedited resolution or their situation will become more difficult.
- The taxpayer has a complex issue involving many steps. The TAS will step in and ensure all steps are being followed by the parties involved.
- The taxpayer is not able to resolve their issue(s) with the IRS using recommended methods.
- The taxpayer has a unique scenario but the IRS keeps trying to apply a general solution.
Because TAS has limited resources, taxpayers must be approved before the TAS will take on their case. It’s important to understand that once the TAS takes over your case, they will be “your voice at the IRS.” This means you’ll no longer be in contact with the IRS and TAS will handle all communication about your case.
Besides directly helping individuals, TAS also advocates for systemic changes within the IRS to the advantage of individuals. To this end, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen has proposed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. This bill of rights was derived from fundamentals in the tax code and is expressed in plain English:
- The Right to Be Informed
- The Right to Quality Service
- The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax
- The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard
- The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum
- The Right to Finality
- The Right to Privacy
- The Right to Confidentiality
- The Right to Retain Representation
- The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System
To see Ms. Olsen’s efforts on systemic issues first hand, here is what she said in a report to the IRS on 6/28/17:
“However, much of the IRS’s improved performance this year is attributable to reduced taxpayer demand for services,” said Olson’s report, as reported by Accounting Today. “While fewer taxpayers attempted to contact the IRS on the telephone, the IRS also answered fewer calls. We also remain concerned about the IRS’s recent and continuing reductions in service for taxpayers, including declining to answer all but basic tax law questions during the filing season or any questions after the filing season, eliminating walk-in service at the TACs (Tax Assistance Centers), and eliminating the ability of taxpayers to ask questions of the IRS online. The failure to meet the needs of taxpayers who rely on these services causes added stress for them and may reduce their willingness or ability to comply.”
“To create an environment that encourages taxpayer trust and confidence, the IRS must change its culture from one that is enforcement-oriented to one that is service-oriented,” the TAS recommended in its 2016 41-page report, as reported by Time.
Should You Contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service?
The four scenarios outlined above should give you a good idea if you are a fit for the TAS. It is certainly worth calling and speaking to them if you believe they can help.
If you use an accountant, have already paid them for their services, and find now that they are somewhat unwilling to help you with IRS issues or want to charge an extra fee, TAS can be a good alternative.
The first step is to go through normal IRS channels and try to get resolution. But if you’re running up against a time limit or nothing is getting resolved after many tries, it is probably time to contact the TAS.
The TAS does work. Talya Hammond of Lancaster, TX filed her return early and thought her refund would be available within a few weeks. The IRS kept telling her it was processing.
"What [the advocate] explained to me was that the previous payment that I had sent in [ . . . ] the system did not reflect me owing any amount," told NBC 5.
Working with the tax advocate, her issue was resolved within a few days. She received the refund minus an amount previously owed to the IRS.
Contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service
Each state has at least one local taxpayer advocate. This is the person you need to contact. You can find their info for your state here.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here and here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.