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Beyond the Byzantine: seeking clarity about written IRS notices

The U.S. mail is, to say the least, not what it used to be.

It isn't only that e-mail has taken over much of the bill-paying and private correspondence functions formally served by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The USPS has also been pummeled by private-package service competitors and constrained by Congress in its ability to cut costs by closing unprofitable locations.

Still, mail service goes on. And that service can still include the delivery of important correspondence, such as a letter or notice from the IRS.

In this post, let's look at some of the things to consider when receiving such a notice.

For starters, let's make an obvious but nonetheless critical point. A notice or letter from the IRS should not be ignored.

To be sure, not all notices concern tax liens or tax audits. There may be good reasons why you think that the letter or notice is wrong about something.

But that doesn't mean you should simply ignore a communication that came in the mail from the IRS. Even if it seems superfluous or incorrect, take a moment to review the contents of the notice or letter carefully and take note of what needs to be resolved.

Typically a notice will address a specific issue regarding your tax compliance. This could include several scenarios:
• The IRS thinks you have additional tax liability.
• The IRS has a question to be clarified regarding your tax return.
• The IRS needs additional information to process your return.
• The IRS has determined that you are eligible for a larger tax refund.

Of course, there are other possible scenarios as well. After all, one of the challenges with tax compliance is that the federal tax code is so complicated.

It is precisely because of this complexity that the IRS has been working to revise its notices to make them clearer and more specific.

Each of the redesigned notices does have a notice number, as one might expect in a bureaucratic system. But to keep the bureucracy from becoming too Byzantine, each notice is also supposed to have a plain-English explanation of what it is about.

Source: IRS.gov, "Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter"

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