There are fewer true axioms than the one Benjamin Franklin wrote in a 1789 letter to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Regardless of your company's size or longevity, if you conduct business in the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects taxes from your business.
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While taxes would be an easy thing to handle in a perfect world, tax codes at the local, state and federal levels make for often confusing situations for individuals and business owners alike. Mistakes happen and if they happen to your business, it can mean owing back taxes to the IRS.
When it comes to collecting debts, the IRS does not play around. If you receive a letter from the government claiming you owe taxes, especially if you owe a large sum, it's a perfectly reasonable reaction to panic. The IRS has many ways of getting its money back, from wage garnishments to tax liens on your property. If things progress to that point, it could mean major problems for both your business and your personal life, depending on how your company is structured.
If you owe money to the IRS, you may need help from a tax debt relief company. These companies can represent you and negotiate with the IRS on your behalf. If conditions are right, they can try to lower your tax liability, establish a payment plan with the government or have a bank levy lifted, among other options.
While it may seem like the tax debt relief industry is there to help in all circumstances, the IRS has very specific criteria you need to meet before they will even consider negotiating with you (or your representative) on your tax debt. If you do not meet the criteria set by the IRS for certain federal and state debt relief options, no tax debt relief company can negotiate on your behalf to absolve or lower your debt.
After researching and interacting with companies offering tax relief solutions, we suggest the following: For self-employed individuals, freelancers and contractors who need IRS back tax help, Community Tax is our best pick. For small businesses with less than $25,000 in tax debt, we recommend Tax Defense Partners while we suggest ALG Tax Solutions for small businesses with more than $25,000 in unpaid taxes.
To read more about the companies we selected as our best picks, continue to our Reviews section. If none of these companies seem like a good fit for you, however, read our reviews of other services and check out other tax debt relief options available to you.
When the IRS starts sending letters warning that you or your company owe taxes to the government, it takes approximately 30 days before they begin garnishing paychecks and levying bank accounts (and other assets). While it may seem like time is on your side, the longer you wait to address a tax issue with the IRS, the more likely those liens, levies and garnishments will become a reality.
When you hire a tax debt relief company, a team of lawyers, certified public accountants (CPA), enrolled agents, or a combination of the three, will work directly with the IRS to negotiate your situation.
The best tax debt relief companies will begin by investigating your case to determine where the debt is coming from and your eligibility for certain programs. No matter which company you choose, all of them charge for their initial investigation, though some companies fold this fee into their overall cost. In addition, some companies charge a retainer for their law team, which generally helps pay for the overall service. Each of our top picks charges a flat fee for their work on a case-by-case basis; the more involved the case, the more you will be charged. You should also expect to sign a contract with the tax debt relief company before services are rendered.
Despite what most tax debt relief advertisements claim, legitimate tax debt relief firms cannot promise any significant relief with the IRS. As mentioned before, the IRS has strict eligibility requirements for renegotiating your tax debt.
While you may want to enter into an offer-in-compromise (OIC) agreement with the IRS, which will allow you to settle for a lower amount than what you owe, you may not be eligible for an OIC if you can pay the full tax liability. What tax debt relief companies can do in that instance is advocate on your behalf to establish an installment agreement with the federal government.
Should You Settle Your Tax Debt Yourself?
The U.S. tax code, comprised of nearly 74,000 pages, has often been considered one of the most byzantine pieces of legislation in the country. With so many tax laws to navigate when dealing with the IRS, it may just make sense to hire a tax debt relief company regardless of how much or little you owe. While these companies are staffed with experts that know the inner workings of the IRS, individuals acting on their own behalf can still reach agreements with the government for free and without representation.
Started back in 2008 and expanded in 2012, the IRS Fresh Start Initiative is a government program that gives individuals and business owners with up to $50,000 in back taxes a chance to resolve their debt directly with the IRS. Through the program, tax debtors can establish a payment plan with the IRS, spreading out repayment over time, rather than all at once. How much you would repay each month is based on your current income and the net value of your liquid assets. For individuals with tax debt problems who have been unemployed more than 30 days, the program allows taxpayers to request a six-month filing extension, and the IRS will forgive penalties.
The Fresh Start Initiative also gives individuals the option to enter into an OIC agreement to settle the debt for less than the tax originally owed. In order to be approved for an OIC, you must prove you cannot pay the full amount owed and that the settlement amount you are offering is greater than the funds the agency is able to collect.
Along with the Fresh Start Initiative, the IRS also offers its Taxpayer Advocate Service. This program is open to anyone living in the U.S. and is free to use. If you have tried to settle matters with the IRS by yourself and have come up empty, the Taxpayer Advocate Service will provide representation to work with the IRS, similar to the services tax debt relief companies provide.
Whether either of these DIY options is right for you depends on your individual case. If the amount of money you'll owe to a tax debt relief company is more than your initial debt, look into the aforementioned options and contact the IRS.
Types of Tax Debt Relief Options
When evaluating which tax debt relief company to use, consider how you want to deal with the IRS. In addition to OIC and payment plan options, most companies provide various other avenues for tax debt forgiveness. Those options include:
Innocent Spouse Relief. Most couples who get married in the United States file a joint tax return with the IRS. While that filing status generally comes with some benefits to the couple, it can also bring on some liability for either individual. Certain cases, such as when a spouse fails to properly report income or claims incorrect deductions or credits, can cause financial harm to the other individual. Innocent spouse relief helps protect an individual from their spouse's mistakes.
Separation of Liability Relief. Most tax debt relief companies can help divorcees deal with the financial sins of the other. In this instance, the IRS allows for "the separate allocation of additional tax owed" between the two individuals. Both parties must either be legally separated from or not living with each other to qualify for this type of relief. Further, you are responsible for the amount of tax allocated to you.
Equitable Relief. When neither Innocent Spouse Relief or Separation of Liability Relief is applicable for anything not properly reported to the IRS on a joint return, you can try to seek Equitable Relief. To be considered for this option, the issue must be attributable to your spouse. According to the IRS, you may also qualify for this option "if the amount of tax reported is correct on your joint return, but the tax wasn't paid with the return."
Currently Not Collectible (CNC). If you are financially unable to repay your tax debt, you may qualify for Currently Not Collectible status. Rather than an absolution of your tax liability, CNC is more of a reprieve from the IRS' collection efforts. Under this agreement, you will stop receiving letters and the phone calls will stop while you get things back under control. To qualify, you must prove your financial hardship to the IRS. You will do that by sharing your financial information with the government, including any savings accounts or other potential assets. Without any assets to repay the debt, the IRS will need to document your average monthly income and living expenses in order to determine if an installment agreement would be better. You may also be required to file a financial statement and potentially prove your income and expenses. Further, the IRS limits your monthly expenses. Any tax refunds will go directly toward paying back your debt, and you will likely get penalized with a federal tax lien if your debt is over $10,000. If you become able to repay your debt, you will lose CNC status. If, however, your financial situation remains the same for 10 years, the IRS will write off your debt.
Federal Tax Lien/Levy Assistance. If you've failed to pay your taxes and ignored the problem for some time, chances are you have been threatened with or been the subject of tax liens or levies. Levies and liens are the federal government's way of ensuring it gets the money owed to them. If you are hit with a tax levy, the IRS can garnish your wages, withdraw funds from your bank accounts, garnish your Social Security and seize your property, though the last option is usually for the most egregious tax dodgers. Tax liens, however, originate from overdue property taxes or failing to pay your taxes. Liens generally affect real estate and personal property, more than your bank account. If you have a tax lien, your credit score will take a hit and your ability to get a loan or refinance your home will be severely hampered, among other issues. Tax debt relief companies negotiate with the IRS to lift levies or liens while you get everything in order.
Penalty Relief. If you can't pay the penalties leveled against you from the IRS, some tax debt relief outfits will work to have those fees reduced or removed. Penalties can be incurred if you fail to file your taxes, don't pay your taxes in a timely manner or don't deposit your taxes before the deadline.
Audit Representation and Tax Preparation. If you or your business are being audited, most tax debt relief companies will provide legal representation. Additionally, some tax debt relief companies offer a tax preparation service aimed at ensuring you do not run afoul with the IRS again.
Tax Debt Relief FAQs
How can you tell if a tax debt relief company is legit?
When it comes to figuring out whether a tax debt relief company is worth your time and won't lead to more problems in the future, time is your friend. For years, the Federal Trade Commission has worked to root out fraudulent tax debt relief companies. The longer a company has been in operation, the less likely that it's a fraud.
It's also beneficial to look up the company's rating with the Better Business Bureau. There, you can see how a company fares in the industry, as well as any complaints leveled against it by consumers.
Do you want to settle your tax debt in full?
The answer to this question depends largely on your individual financial situation. If you can pay in full, the IRS will make sure you do. They will make that determination taking into account your monthly income, your assets and other factors. If you can't pay it in full in one payment, reaching out to a tax debt relief company to negotiate a payment plan with the IRS could be the way to go.
In certain cases, a tax debt relief service will negotiate with the IRS to settle your debt for a smaller amount. This process, known as the offer in compromise (OIC), is a very specific solution that comes with many requirements. If you do not meet those requirements, you will not be approved for an OIC.
Can you negotiate with IRS about your debt?
Depending on your situation and the amount owed, it is possible to negotiate directly with the IRS. Some tax debt relief companies will suggest you handle it yourself instead of using their services, since their costs could exceed what you owe to the government. In those cases, we found that a representative will at least point you in the right direction.
Since the U.S. tax code is so cumbersome, it may be in your best interest to hire a tax debt relief company to negotiate in your stead. Only certified public accountants, enrolled agents and tax attorneys are able to represent you in front of the IRS.
How far back can the IRS collect unfiled taxes?
The IRS has a long memory when it comes to the money you owe them. Generally, the IRS has three years to audit you and determine whether more taxes are owed. If the IRS feels you have committed fraud or other criminal tax activities, the statute of limitations for audits can be extended. If the IRS believes you reported underreported more than 25 percent of your gross income, or if the same amount was underreported in an estate or gifts given in a year, the IRS can audit you within six years.
If you are found to owe taxes to the IRS, they have 10 years to collect any unpaid taxes.
Avoiding Tax Debt Scams
The tax debt relief industry has had issues with fraudulent companies in the past. Some companies claim to be able to settle a tax debt for "pennies on the dollar" or warn that certain services are available only for a limited time. Some companies make offers in their advertising materials that sound too good to be true, claiming that they can get your tax debt completely wiped from your records. Frankly, those offers usually sound too good to be true because they are.
As you do your research, do not share any personal information or pay any money until you are absolutely certain the company is legitimate. You can do that by asking questions of the service and learning more about the team who will represent you before the IRS.
Almost every company offers a free consultation. You will either speak to a representative over the phone or through live chat on the company's website. After answering some brief screener questions, you will likely be handed over to a tax professional who will attempt to answer your questions.
Once you are speaking with a knowledgeable representative, ask what the company can offer you and how long they've been working with the IRS. Find out what qualifications the company's tax professionals have. Seek out companies that have been in business for longer periods of time. Companies with tax attorneys, certified public accountants and enrolled agents on staff should also be higher on your list for consideration, since those individuals are the only ones who are legally able to represent you before the IRS.
If the company you're speaking with is on the up and up, they will answer your questions with no reservations and without requiring an agreement up front.
Common Tax Debt Relief Services Questions & Answers
Hi Shania. There are a few different taxes to consider. Federal and State taxes, and how you pay for those will depend on your business form, ie Sole Proprietor, Partnership, Corporation, S-Corp..etc. I will speak on Sole Proprietor as it is by far the easiest and cheapest form you can choose and I am assuming you are in business for yourself which is also a whole lot cheaper than having partners. Typically the first tax you will pay will be the fee for registering your Doing Business AS...
I agree with Laurie and Kim. However, I also would caution you not to jump to conclusions too fast. Businesses can lose money for multiple years and yet be fine if the owners can capitalize it from other sources; maybe they want the tax benefit of a loss in one business to offset the profits in another one. This can be a successful strategy to get a biz up and running, hoping that eventually it does make a profit. The paying under the table is a huge red flag, though. That alone...
I think the first thing you need to determine is if you are an independent contractor in which case he will give you a 1099 or if he considers you to be working under the table (paid in cash basically). If he is considering you to be working under the table, basically filing taxes on that income will trigger some problems but working under the table is also illegal. Now if he is considering you to be an independent contractor then he will give you a 1099 and you will file a schedule C plus...
#1 Get legal advice from someone in your jurisdiction. The answer is going to depend a great deal on: Corporate structure: corporation, LLC, partnership, etc. (and how those are treated under your laws) Any/all agreements in place, including compensation for your time. Whether the debt has been signed off personally or only in company name. The main lesson you should take from this: corporate structure is important, and it's important that it be in writing, including termination...
It depends whether you are a cash-basis taxpayer or an accrual-basis taxpayer. Cash basis taxpayers record income when received and record deductible expenses when paid (in your case, bill deductible in 2017). Accrual basis taxpayers record income when billed and deduct expenses when incurred (this would be where you could deduct the bill in 2016). So you need to know whether you are reporting on cash basis or accrual basis. Should be a checkbox on your tax return to tell you which one you...
This is what's referred to as reconstructed records project, which I have plenty of experience in, having done this for startup founders such as yourself and other businesses that were somehow profitable while run out of the owner's checkbook (not recommended :-). Step 1 is to get the books in order, then Step 2 is to get with an experienced CPA or Enrolled Agent who likes to rehabilitate those in tax arrears. They are on your side and will manage the process for least impact on you and your...
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