NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You've put off going to the accountant, because you know you’re going to owe the IRS. What's more, you're going to owe the IRS more than you ever thought was possible. Maybe it's $5,000. Maybe it's $10,000. Maybe it's $20,000. What if we told you not to worry all that much about it? It's not bad advice. In fact, it's good advice if you want to sleep through the night and keep your financial house in order.
Owing the IRS Isn’t a Big Deal If...
“It's not a big deal as long as you pay them,” says Eric Green, an attorney with Green and Sklarz in New York. That's the caveat to everything that you’re going to read here: you need to pay the IRS, or the organization is going to come after you. As long as you work with the the IRS, however, you’ll find that it's one of the best creditors you can have.
"How many creditors will deem you uncollectible?" he asks. "How many will compromise with you?" he asks.
Adam Libman of Libman Tax Strategy, a California-based tax preparer, agrees.
"Interest rates with the IRS are always related to the prime rate," Libman said. "They generally charge a much lower interest rate than credit card companies."
In fact, depending on what kind of a rate you have on your student loans, owing money to the IRS might be a better deal even than those.
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How the IRS Collects Its Money
Libman likens the IRS to a debt collection firm. To that end, its agents are almost always willing to work out some kind of a payment plan with you.
"Make sure that you set something up," he warns. "If you don’t do that, then they’re going to come after you with wage garnishments and property liens and bank levies."
Still, if and when this happens, you're not going to be caught unawares.
"Any time someone comes in here with a bank levy and says, 'This is the first I’ve heard of this,' all I can think is, 'Yeah, right,'" says Green.
In fact, you're going to get several letters from the IRS before they start taking more extreme actions against you.
Green describes the first letter as "friendly." It's little more than a statement of what you owe along with a coupon for you to pay the IRS. When the IRS doesn't get any kind of response, that’s when you receive a slightly less friendly letter. The CP-504 is a notice that the IRS intends to seek a levy. When you don’t send anything in response to that, you then receive a 1058 letter. This is your final warning that you need to do something about it or the IRS is going to come after you. All you have to do -- even at the point of receiving the 1058 letter -- is request a hearing, and all collections will cease.
Staying on Top of Your Payments
"If you owe the IRS $10,000 and you’re perfectly healthy and you’re still making roughly the same amount of money, you need to set up a payment plan," says Libman. "They create payment plans with pretty low monthly installments."
Libman quickly points out, however, that if you don't aggressively pay down the debt that it’s going to become like a credit card, you’re constantly paying the minimum balance on -- you'll carry it around forever.
The other piece of this puzzle is staying current with your tax filings. Green and Libman both agreed that the IRS is far more aggressive in going after people who are not "compliant"; that is, up to date on all previous filings. You don’t have to pay all of the money, you just need to have all of the paperwork in.
"If you owe $14,000 for the last four years being in compliance is a lot more important than throwing some big chunk of money at the problem," says Green.
"The key thing is that you don’t have to be afraid of the IRS," says Green. "You just have to man up and deal with it."
This can be as simple as picking up the phone, calling the IRS and setting up an installment plan to pay what you owe.
"The times when it becomes nasty is generally when the taxpayer hasn’t replied or responded," he says.
-- Written for MainStreet by Nicholas Pell