Thursday, January 26, 2012

Terrance Clem Wright v Commissioner

I have a question for you: if you wanted to convince the IRS that you are unable to pay back taxes because of financial hardship, would you hesitate to send them copies of your bank statements?
Let’s take a look at another pro se case before the Tax Court: Terrance Clem Wright v Commissioner. This is also a good opportunity to review the sequence of possible IRS Collections actions against a taxpayer.
Terrance Wright (TCW) fell behind on his taxes for 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.
On March 18, 2010 the IRS sent him a notice advising him that a notice of federal tax lien (NFTL) had been filed because of his back taxes and that he could request a hearing with the Appeals Office.
On April 25, 2010 TCW filed a request for a Due Process Hearing. The intent of a CDP is to delay a hasty IRS collection action and allow the taxpayer to propose an alternative. He did not contest the tax liabilities but instead requested an installment agreement.
On November 19, 2010, the IRS sent TCW a letter scheduling a telephone conference on January 18, 2011.  The IRS requested TCW to provide financial information and a payment proposal. This would help the IRS Appeals Officer make a decision.
On January 18, 2011, TCW and the Appeals Officer had their telephone conference. TCW told the Appeals Officer that he could not currently afford to make any payments. The Appeals Officer told TCW that - while he had provided some financial information – he unfortunately had not provided bank statements. She needed the bank statements to review his situation and make her decision. Until then she did not have enough information to determine whether TCW should be placed in currently not collectible (CNC) status. She encouraged TCW to pursue CNC status when he obtained all of the necessary financial documents.
NOTE: CNC status means that the IRS will not pursue action for a period of time, very often a year. It does not mean that the tax debt is gone, only that the IRS is granting time for you to get your financial affairs back in order.
Once informed by the Appeals Officer of the alternative, TCW liked the idea of CNC. This does not appear to have occurred to him previously, which indicates – at least to me – that he was not represented by a tax professional.
On February 2, 2011, the IRS issued a notice telling TCW that he would not receive an installment agreement or CNC.
OBSERVATION: Notice the dates: January 18 and February 2. This is not a lot of time, especially by IRS standards. Remember that it took him seven months to get to Appeals. TCW needed to have burnished his case by or before the hearing, as time is short once you are in Appeals.
The Appeals Office, at least in Cincinnati and this part of the country, is undermanned and overworked. I was told recently, for example, that Chicago Appeals are being heard in Wisconsin. My general experience with Appeals has been satisfactory, but one has to be aware and sensitive that these people are pressed for time. I am certain that TCW’s Appeals Officer was frustrated with his lack of cooperation.  
TCW, in a pique, filed a petition with the Tax Court on March 1, 2011.  TCW did not contest the underlying tax debt or the denial of an installment agreement. Instead, TCW’s only argument was that he could not afford to pay. He wanted the IRS to suspend collection action on the basis of his economic hardship. He wanted a CNC, and he wanted the Tax Court to tell the IRS to let him have one.
Here is the Tax Court:
Suspension of collection activity is a “collection alternative” that the taxpayer may propose and that the Office of Appeals must take into consideration. The Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) makes provision for a taxpayer's account to be declared “currently not collectible” in cases of “hardship.” To justify suspension of collection on the ground that the account should be deemed CNC, petitioner must show that he cannot afford to pay the liabilities; and to do so he must show his financial circumstances, including the money that is available to him and the expenses that he bears.
The Appeals officer requested that petitioner submit bank statements and other financial information so that collection alternatives could be considered. Petitioner submitted some of the requested information but failed to submit bank statements. Because petitioner failed to submit the requested bank statement information, the Appeals officer was unable to accurately ascertain petitioner's financial circumstances and, consequently, determined that she could not calculate the appropriate installment agreement terms or grant petitioner CNC status. In the absence of the requested information, respondent's Appeals officer did not abuse her discretion in denying petitioner's request for collection alternatives.
My take? Send the bank statements. It really is that simple.

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