If you received an IRS letter, there’s a 50 percent chance you didn’t understand it.
It’s not you, it’s the IRS, according to an October 2014 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
TIGTA looked at 18 sample IRS letters and 38 notices that were revised or redesigned in fiscal year 2013. It found that 50 percent of the letters and 66 percent of the notices “are not written and structured or do not provide sufficient information.”
One sample was an IRS notice of a tax lien. The notice never explained or defined what a lien is, says TIGTA. (A lien is a right to keep possession of property belonging to another until a debt owed has been discharged.)
A mess of misunderstanding
The IRS mails more than 200 million letters and notices each year to individuals and business taxpayers, says TIGTA. That could amount to a whole mess of misunderstanding.
Congress enacted the Plain Writing Act of 2010 to make it easier for citizens to understand information provided by the government. In short, the feds want to ensure that you can read and understand any information they provide to you. That’s something you likely want, too, especially if you receive “Notice 3, IMF 2nd Balance Due Notice” from the IRS. (That’s the tax lien notice that doesn’t explain a tax lien.
The IRS committed to writing all new documents in plain language by October 2011. They want you to be able to say, “I got a letter from the IRS, and I understood it.” Apparently that’s still a work in progress.
Clearing up IRS speak
TIGTA made several recommendations, including that the IRS ensure that its technical writers have sufficient training in Federal Plain Language Guidelines and that the agency begin a quality review process that confirms that letters or notices are reviewed for plain writing.
For the most part, the IRS agreed with the recommendations.
If you get a letter from the IRS and can’t decipher it, don’t throw it away. You need to respond. Contact a Liberty Tax Service office for help. We speak IRS.
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