Friday, October 12, 2012

Proposal to Report IRS Debt to Credit Bureaus

The General Accounting Office has released a report titled “Federal Tax Debts: Factors for Considering a Proposal to Report Tax Debts to Credit Bureaus.”
Seems self-explanatory.
The report was provided to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. At the end of 2011 the IRS was carrying an inventory of $373 billion in receivables: $258 from individuals and $115 from businesses. Under current policy the IRS cannot directly report these debts to credit bureaus, although it does provide indirect clues by filing tax liens to secure its debts. The liens become part of the private record, which can in turn be picked up by credit bureaus and included in their data bases. There are firms that troll these records to solicit IRS representation, as a number of our clients can attest. There is one outfit in California that seems quite aggressive, as I have seen their form letters with regularity.
Credit reporting is not yet IRS policy, but the GAO report does indicate that the Senate tax committee is looking seriously at this matter. As Congress considers ways to address runaway deficits, it seems a viable proposal to raise revenue.

Are there issues here? Of course.  Many employers are using credit reports as part of their hiring process, and they are also being increasingly used in housing (think renting) decisions. These credit reports have real-life consequences.
On the flip side, reporting may encourage recalcitrant taxpayers to resolve their IRS issues sooner rather than later.
I am not sure I am comfortable with this proposal. I have worked IRS representation for many years, and while my experience with the IRS has been generally positive, I also have my share of war stories. I have arrived at agreement at examination, only to have exam reverse its decision and force me into Appeals. I have had the IRS battle me on a research credit, where the business owner is a professor at the University of Cincinnati and is commercializing his research. I have a client in Florida with two daughters. He is divorced, and his wife pays child support. We are battling the IRS because they do not want to believe that the two girls live with him. This affects his filing status (head of household), as well as his child credit ($1,000 for each girl). It would seem an easy case, as the girls’ mother lives in northern Kentucky. The girls are in Florida, for goodness sake.
Remember: these are people who can afford to hire me.
Of the $373 billion, $60 billion was in dispute or already in installment plans. $110 billion has been classified as uncollectible (I have several clients included in that total). That leaves about $200 billion that could be brought into the system, I suppose. The distribution curve of the debt is pretty much what one would expect. Well over half the taxpayers owe small dollars - less than $5,000.  The big dollars are concentrated in a much smaller group of taxpayers: debts over $5,000 add-up to $310 billion of the $373 billion total.
Still, how much of this is contestable IRS debt but the taxpayer cannot afford a tax pro?

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