NEW YORK (CBSNEWS.COM) – Few things are more frightening than opening your mailbox and finding a letter from the IRS. You may rack your brain wondering what you’ve done to receive such a notice. But there’s no need to pretend it didn’t arrive, or go on the lam.
Relax. The IRS sends out millions of letters each year for a variety of reasons. An IRS letter doesn’t necessarily carry bad news — and if it does, ignoring it isn’t going to make the situation any better. Take a deep breath, resist the urge to panic and follow these tips to help you get past your initial shock.
Read the letter promptly – Putting off opening it won’t help you, and delaying can even cause you harm. In many cases, the IRS is simply seeking more information or clarification of some aspect of your tax return, which makes it time-sensitive by definition.
Check for incorrect information – Review the notice for any errors such as a misspelled name or an incorrect Social Security number, and compare any noted corrections or changes in your return with your original submission. These could be simple mistakes, modifications to correct errors on your original return. It’s quite possible you didn’t consider one of the latest tax changes when you filed.
Alternatively, the IRS corrections could be signs that someone has tried to send in a fraudulent tax return in your name. If you would like to prevent tax identity theft, check out our credit monitoring service.
Reply promptly when necessary – Not all IRS notifications require a reply, but when they do, it’s important to reply quickly. Typically, you’ll have 30 days to respond. Your response should be in writing, and you should retain copies of your correspondence, as well as any information you send along with the correspondence, for example, proof of a particular deduction that you’ve claimed.
Address any required payments – If you have underpaid your taxes and received a balance-due notice, you must address the issue immediately in order to avoid penalties. If you can’t pay the amount due immediately, you may qualify for additional time to pay or for alternative payment options such as installment agreements. Review your options in IRS Tax Topic 202 and contact the IRS to set up the payment options that work best for you.
If you believe the payment request is in error, you can attempt to resolve your dispute within the IRS Office of Appeals or, ultimately, in Tax Court. In any case, you need to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Seek professional help if needed – If you’re being audited or have a serious issue with the IRS request, don’t try to handle it by yourself. Depending on the situation, you may need assistance from your tax preparer, a Certified Public Accountant or even a lawyer. Make sure you and your professional are familiar with the latest changes implemented by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act.
Keep all IRS correspondence – Keep the IRS letter, along with any replies that you make, with your important tax records. You may need this information in case of future questions or disputes.
Remember that real communications with the IRS will be made by traditional mail. The IRS won’t use email or social media to contact you, nor will it call you threatening to lock you up. Tax scammers often send notices by these methods, pretending to represent the IRS and demanding personal information, financial information or payments by specific methods.
Don’t let scammers fool you into releasing personal information — but conversely, don’t ignore mail correspondence from the IRS on the assumption that it may be a scam. The worst thing you can do with an IRS notice is to ignore it… or blow town.