You wake up in the middle of the night. Heart racing, drenched in sweat and breathing heavy. Thankfully, it was just a nightmare when the IRS showed up at your doorstep unannounced. Recently, however, this was the reality for some taxpayers – and not just a bad dream. The IRS just publicized a significant shift in policy, effectively ending the vast majority of surprise taxpayer visits. The change comes in an effort to create safer conditions for IRS officers as well as ease public concerns.
Who’s Knocking at My Door?
In order to understand the change in policy, you’ll need to understand the three categories of IRS employee that typically interact with taxpayers: Revenue Officers, Revenue Agents and Special Agents.
IRS Revenue Agents are tax return auditors. They don’t typically show up unannounced.
IRS Revenue Officers, of which there are approximately 2,300, have duties that include paying visits to taxpayers to collect back taxes and tax returns not filed. They are not auditors but instead focus on collection efforts, including issuing liens and levies. Revenue Officers are the main category of IRS employees impacted by the policy change.
Special Agents deal with criminal matters and are part of one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States. The change in policy does not impact Special Agents.
Why the shift to (mostly) eliminating surprise visits from IRS Revenue Officers? Safety is cited as the main concern. Unannounced visits to taxpayers, whether at home or their business, can be risky. Historically, IRS Revenue Officers faced contentious and sometimes dangerous conditions during their unannounced visits.
There is also a growing number of scam artists pretending to be IRS agents or officers. As a result, taxpayers are increasingly wary of unannounced visits, and this causes confusion for both the taxpayer and law enforcement.
The difficulty in distinguishing between IRS representatives and fakes has caused concern for taxpayers already on-guard for scam artists. The IRS believes that maintaining trust among the public will go a long way to maintaining the legitimacy of the organization.
Appointment Letters In Lieu of Visits
In place of these previously unannounced visits, the IRS will contact taxpayers through a 725-B letter, more colloquially know as an appointment letter.
An appointment letter will facilitate scheduling in-person meetings, with the opportunity for the taxpayer to prepare any information and documentation beforehand, allowing for quicker resolution of cases. These meetings occur at a pre-determined time, date and place.
Limited Visits Will Still Occur
The policy change does not completely eliminate unannounced visits by the IRS. In “extremely limited situations,” such as serving summonses and subpoenas and the seizure of assets, unannounced visits will still occur. To give some perspective, these types of visits will account for only a few hundred per year compared to the tens of thousands of unannounced visits under the old policy.
Unannounced IRS visits are (almost) a thing of the past. They will be carried out only in rare, necessary cases, with most Revenue Officer visits being pre-scheduled. This should ease taxpayer anxiety and make case resolution more efficient.