IRS – Taxpayer Bill of Rights
By Steven A Leahy
In June of 2014 the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, announced the new “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” Turns out, this initiative was merely a list of already existing rights – The right to be informed, the right to be assisted, the right to be heard, etc. Ms. Olson thought it important that this list of existing rights be supplied to taxpayers because “taxpayers overwhelmingly do not believe they have any rights.”
The “real” Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR) are three pieces of legislation creating never before existing rights. Known as Taxpayer Bill of Rights I, II and III, these new laws were passed between 1988 and 1998, after nearly 20 years of Congressional Hearings. These changes to the tax are “[p]erhaps the most significant tax legislation in the history of tax administration.” This article will review those three historic pieces of legislation and the changes to the tax law each implemented.
Before 1988, the IRS pretty much had free reign for seizures and liens. “Without a court order, the tax code allows them the power to completely wipe out a bank account, attach almost an entire paycheck, and seize almost anything of value.” For example, the IRS only had to provide a 10 day notice before seizing property. The 10 day period didn’t give taxpayers enough time to raise money to pay the IRS. The result was – lots of seizures. Also, the only way to appeal an IRS decision was after you paid the tax the IRS insisted you owed – even if it turned out they were wrong.
The 1988 Congress passed the Technical and Miscellaneous Act of 1988, now known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights 1 (TBOR 1). TBOR 1 was a modest first step. Senator Mark Prior, then chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee on Oversight of the IRS, introduced TBOR 1 and strongly supported it passage. He said “[this law] will stem the abuse of taxpayers by the IRS and provide redress when abuse does occur. It marks a victory for the little taxpayer. It levels the playing field.”
There are some Highlights of TBOR 1. It created the position of ombudsman, with the authority to stop certain IRS actions against taxpayers. Created an installment agreement option. But only required the IRS to “fairly consider the request.” The taxpayer was granted the right to assistance of a tax professional – an attorney, CPA or enrolled agent. Also permitted the taxpayer to stop an interview or audit to get advise of a tax professional. TBOR 1 also increased the time of Notice of Levy from 10 days to 30 days and created the right to audio record most meetings with the IRS.
Taxpayer Bill of Rights 2, or T2, was signed into law on July 30, 1996. T2 did not replace TBOR1, it merely supplemented it. T2 created a process to formally appeal liens, levies and seizures through the IRS Appeals Office, created to be totally independent of the collections department. The appeals office can stop these actions if the IRS collectors did not follow the correct procedures. T2 also created additional notice requirements for IRS actions relating to the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty, joint liabilities of married and divorced persons, and how the IRS applies credits. Finally, T2 made it easier for a court to award attorney fees and court costs to taxpayers who battle the IRS in court.
The biggest changes happened with the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, better known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights 3 (TBOR 3). The biggest changes involved IRS collections activities and the individual rights of each taxpayer. TBOR 3 created Innocent Spouse relief, the Offer-in-Compromise, required supervisor permission for any lien, levy or seizure, limited the IRS ability to seize a residence, created the right to a Due Process appeals in all IRS collections actions, release of levies if there is a determination that the tax obligation is currently not collectible, increased the dollar amount of exemptions to levy and garnishment actions. There were also changes to interest rates, and penalties applied while in an installment agreement, and disallowed interest and penalties without at least yearly notice.
The Tax Payer Bill of Right 1 – 3 has turned out, less then expected – there is still room for improvement. But we are worlds apart from where we were before TPBR. If you owe the IRS money, or have unfiled returns these changes can help you. To find out, you should give me a call. We can discuss all your options. Opem Tax Resolutions & The Law Office of Steven A. Leahy, PC (312) 664-6649. Call NOW to set up your FREE Consultation.