You recently met the April 18 deadline to file your 2015 federal income tax return, and you’re just starting to decompress after weeks of assembling records, adding up totals and double-checking everything.
Then bang, you get a letter from the Internal Revenue Service. You ask: Why me?
Actually, it happens a lot.
The IRS said last week that it typically sends out “millions” of letters and notices to taxpayers for a variety of reasons. And no, receiving a letter from the IRS usually does not mean that your number has come up for an extensive audit.
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The IRS does not contact taxpayers by email or social media to ask for personal or financial information..
David Tucker, an IRS spokesman in Seattle, has advice for those receiving a communication from the federal tax agency: “The first tip they should know is to not panic. Most taxpayers can deal with a notice by simply responding to it.”
Tucker explained that most IRS notices are about federal tax returns or tax accounts. Each notice has specific instructions, so recipients should read their notices carefully to understand what is being asked of them. More often than not, a notice concerns changes in your account, taxes owed or a payment request, but it also might be a question about a specific issue.
If your notice says the IRS changed or corrected your tax return, the agency says you should review the information and compare it with your original return. If you agree with the changes outlined in the notice, the IRS says you usually do not need to reply, unless specific instructions to do so are given, or you need to make a payment.
What if you don’t agree with what is explained in the notice?
The IRS advises those taxpayers to write a letter explaining why they do not agree with the notice. That letter should include information and documents that bolster your opinion. Mail your response with the contact stub at the bottom of the notice to the listed address. The IRS says you should allow at least 30 days for a response.
For most notices, the IRS says, taxpayers won’t need to call or visit a walk-in center. If you have questions, call the phone number in the upper-right corner of the notice, and be sure to have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call.
Most important, the IRS says taxpayers need to be aware of potential scams that pop up during this post-filing period.
For years, scam artists have attempted to illegally obtain money from consumers via threatening phone calls. Callers typically demand immediate payment or threaten taxpayers with immediate arrest if they do not send money immediately. Personal information is requested. Some scammers alter caller ID numbers to make it appear that the scam call is from a legitimate IRS representative.
The IRS stressed that it never calls to demand immediate payment and never requires payment without the opportunity to appeal. Nor does it ask for credit/debit card numbers over the phone or threaten to call in law enforcement if payment is not received.
The IRS sends letters and notices by mail. It does not contact taxpayers by email or social media to ask for personal or financial information. If you do owe tax, you have multiple payment options, which are explained in detail at irs.gov/payments.
Tucker offered another tax tip last week: “This is a good time for taxpayers to plan and organize ahead for next year’s filing.”
That includes keeping all documents relating to changes in marital status or children living at home, plus any changes in your health insurance.
At a glance
For more details on options taxpayers have to respond to an IRS notice, go to irs.gov and click on the “Respond to a Notice” link at the bottom of the home page.