You’ve seen those late night TV ads with the little old lady who says that JK Harris settled her IRS tax debt for “pennies on the dollar.” Or maybe you’ve seen the red bearded guy who tells you his company, Tax Masters with its team of ex-IRS agents has helped “many good people just like you.”
And maybe you’ve wondered if they could help you too. Well no, they can’t. They’ve both filed for bankruptcy and their doors are shut. Part of the problem being was that their advertising was a little misleading.
Does that mean that you can’t settle your debt with the IRS for “pennies on the dollar”? No, that option is still available–it’s called an “Offer in Compromise”, but it’s not an option for everyone. An offer in compromise is only for people who genuinely can’t pay their tax bill–when all of their assets and future earnings are taken into account.
In 2010, there were over 57,000 Offer in Compromise applications submitted to the IRS–only 14,000 of them were accepted. Most of the problem with those rejected applications is that many people submitting Offers in Compromise don’t know the rules regarding spending and assets. When you’re filling out the form, you may say that your monthly mortgage payment is $2000, but the IRS has specific guidelines on what’s an allowable housing expense–if your payments don’t fall within the IRS guidelines, they don’t count. So if you live in an area where the IRS says that your monthly housing payment should only be $1500–that means you have $500 a month that the IRS says you can pay towards your tax bill–an offer would be unlikely. Now you don’t have an extra $500 a month, I get it–but to the IRS, if you owe them money, then you should live in a smaller house.
And although the IRS is rather generous about medical expenses–many of the alternative medicines and treatments are not considered to be “legitimate” medical expenses in an Offer in Compromise. So while the IRS would count your payments for your chemotherapy, they would take off the costs of the holistic vitamin program that you use. You need to keep that in mind if you’re using any kind of “unconventional” treatment. It doesn’t matter that it’s saving your life, if it’s not in the IRS book–it’s not a legitimate medical expense.
For an Offer in Compromise, there are national charts showing what you’re allowed to pay for food and clothing. There are charts for how much your housing should cost broken down by county. And there are different expense rules for senior citizens and younger folks as far as medical expenses are concerned. And you’ll have different rules for bus riders, car owners, and people who are still paying off their car. There’s a labyrinth of tax codes and charts to go through.
And I know this sounds harsh–but I want to make sure you understand how difficult it is to win an Offer in Compromise–if you have equity in your house–the IRS basically assumes that you can sell it for 20% less than what it’s worth and use that money to pay your tax bill. So basically, an Offer in Compromise isn’t usually a good option for homeowners with any equity.
If you don’t know the rules before submitting your application–you could lose before you even begin. That’s why it’s important to get professional help when submitting an Offer. And this is where it’s helpful to have someone who can meet with you in person, understand your situation, and fight for you because they know you’re a person and not just some file sitting on a desk. And if an Offer in Compromise isn’t the right choice for you then you can work together to come up with the best option that is available. And isn’t coming up with the best solution for you the whole point in the first place?