Monday, April 18, 2011

How You Should Talk So the IRS Will Listen

Edited by CRISTINA LOUROSA-RICARDO (Wall Street Journal)

Whether the Internal Revenue Service is auditing you or you're trying to work out a payment plan on a tax bill, meeting an agent face-to-face can lead taxpayers to make serious missteps, experts say.

Here are seven ways to avoid common mistakes:

Rule 1: Don't ignore the tax man. The IRS "has an automated collections system," says John Barrie, a tax lawyer and partner at Bryan Cave LLP. "They will start issuing notices. Each notice gets a little more harsh." Soon enough, the IRS may place a levy on your wages or bank account.

Rule 2: You need to communicate with the IRS, but that doesn't mean telling them everything. Taxpayers often get defensive -- and chatty.

Rule 3: Treat the agent as an equal and maintain emotional control. You want this person to be on your side.

Rule 4: Don't arrive ready to write a check. And don't respond to an IRS letter by dropping a check in the mail. The IRS may be wrong. But once you agree on a payment plan, stick to it.

Rule 5: Bring documentation. Receipts, canceled checks and other documentation "give you more leverage in being able to negotiate," says Cynthia Jeanguenat, an enrolled agent in Virginia Beach, Va.

Rule 6: Ask questions. "When you talk with the IRS, they will lay out for you every single thing that you can do," says Jim Camp, of Camp Negotiation Systems. "All you have to do is ask."

Rule 7: Don't go it alone. It's no surprise tax pros recommend you hire a tax pro for a face-to-face audit. Still, it helps to have an expert on your side.

—Andrea Coombes

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