The IRS Gets Soft on Deadbeat Taxpayers

Yesterday, the IRS announced a major expansion of its Fresh Start initiative which attempts to help taxpayers unable to cover their tax bills. The Installment Agreement program has also been expanded, making it available for more taxpayers who are behind on their taxes.

Under the new provisions, some taxpayers who have been unemployed for 30 days or longer will be able to avoid failure-to-pay penalties.

“We have an obligation to work with taxpayers who are struggling to make ends meet," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. ”This new approach makes sense for taxpayers and for the nation’s tax system, and it’s part of a wider effort we have underway to help struggling taxpayers."

To assist those most in need, a six-month grace period on failure-to-pay penalties will be made available to certain wage earners and self-employed individuals. The request for an extension of time to pay will result in relief from the failure to pay penalty for tax year 2011 only if the tax, interest, and any other penalties are fully paid by Oct. 15, 2012.

The penalty relief will be available to two categories of taxpayers:

  • Wage earners who have been unemployed at least 30 consecutive days during 2011 or in 2012 up to the April 17 deadline for filing a federal tax return this year.
  • Self-employed individuals who experienced a 25 percent or greater reduction in business income in 2011 due to the economy.

In order to qualify for this relief, a taxpayer’s income must not exceed $200,000 if he or she files as married filing jointly or not exceed $100,000 if he or she files as single or head of household. This penalty relief is also restricted to taxpayers whose calendar year 2011 balance due does not exceed $50,000.

Taxpayers meeting the eligibility criteria will need to complete a new Form 1127A to seek the 2011 penalty relief. The new form is available on IRS.gov.

The failure-to-pay penalty is generally half of 1 percent per month with an upper limit of 25 percent. Under this new relief, taxpayers can avoid that penalty until Oct. 15, 2012, which is six months beyond this year’s filing deadline. However, the IRS is still legally required to charge interest on unpaid back taxes and does not have the authority to waive this charge, which is currently 3 percent on an annual basis.

Even with the new penalty relief becoming available, the IRS strongly encourages taxpayers to file their returns on time by April 17 or file for an extension. Failure-to-file penalties applied to unpaid taxes remain in effect and are generally 5 percent per month, also with a 25 percent cap.

The Fresh Start provisions also mean that more taxpayers will have the ability to use streamlined installment agreements to catch up on back taxes.

Effective immediately, the threshold for using an installment agreement without having to supply the IRS with a financial statement has been raised from $25,000 to $50,000. This is a significant reduction in taxpayer burden.

Taxpayers who owe up to $50,000 in back taxes will now be able to enter into a streamlined agreement with the IRS that stretches the payment out over a series of months or years. The maximum term for streamlined installment agreements has also been raised to 72 months from the current 60-month maximum.

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