By Steve Albert
NEW YORK (
) -- There's death and taxes -- then there's the death-like chill when you get a tax notice from the Internal Revenue Service. Here's how to keep your head.
Each year, the IRS sends innumerable notices to taxpayers for various reasons. Your first instinct might be panic, but take a minute and relax. Many notices involve small, easily resolved issues such as a miscalculation or a need for additional documentation.
If you get an IRS notice:
Take a breath.
Read the letter thoroughly to understand the reason for the notice. The letter will explain why you got the notice and what action to take. The IRS works to ensure all notices are in
for "clarity, effectiveness and efficiency." Again, many notices involve small issues uncomplicated to fix.
Ask questions if needed.
You can resolve most notice issues without a visit to an IRS office or even a phone call. If unsure about the purpose of your notice or the action to take, call the number at the upper right corner of your notice. Have a copy of your tax return handy when you call -- it helps the IRS answer you.
Keep a copy of your return each year; if you threw out your old returns or they were lost or damaged,
request a new one
. Transcripts of your returns and tax accounts are free and likely contain all the information you need. You can get them for the current year and the past three years. Get transcripts at IRS.gov on the
order a transcript
page or at (800) 908-9946.
Review return correction notices carefully.
Frequently in cases involving corrections to your tax return, you need to compare the discrepancies in the notice with the filed return. According to the IRS, if you agree with the correction you usually don't need to reply unless you owe a payment.
If you don't agree with the correction, respond to the IRS in writing to explain why you disagree. Include any documents and information for the IRS to consider, along with the bottom-tear off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address shown in the lower left corner of the notice and allow at least 30 days for a response.
Note how the notice arrives.
The IRS sends notices and letters by mail only. They never contact taxpayers with information about their tax filings via email. If you get a suspicious email or electronic contact posing as the IRS and requesting personal information, do not reply.
Do not open any attachments and do not click on any links. (If you did click on a link in a suspicious email, visit the IRS
page.) Forward the email as-is to email@example.com and delete the message after forwarding it.
Retain copies of any notices.
Keep them in a safe place with all your other tax records.
For information about IRS notices and bills, visit IRS.gov and click the "
responding to a notice
" link at the bottom left of the home page. Also see
The IRS Collection Process
on IRS.gov or call (800) 829-3676 for a copy.
And do not panic.
-- By Steven G. Albert, CPA, is director of tax services at Glass Jacobson in Owings Mills, Md.
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