A personal finance must-read

Stand Up to the IRS

The book the IRS doesn't want you to read

IRS troubles? Get secrets, tips, and insider information on how to deal with the IRS if you can't afford your bill or you get audited. Use Stand Up to the IRS to:

  • stop collection efforts
  • protect your assets, and
  • prepare for an audit.

See below for a full product description.

  • Product Details
  • Named a “Best Tax Book” by Entrepreneur.com

    A newly-invigorated IRS is coming. Are you ready for an audit? Armed with this book’s practical information and advice, you can confront America’s most intimidating government agency with confidence. Stand Up to the IRS reveals the tactics of the IRS and how to deal with them.

    Turn to Stand Up to the IRS when you need help:

    • defending your deductions
    • filing a late return
    • working out a long-term payment plan
    • stopping collection efforts
    • avoiding property seizures
    • determining if bankruptcy offers a solution
    • learning what to say when you face an auditor, and
    • appealing an auditor’s decision.

    “One of the best books on personal finance.”—Money Magazine

    “A hands-on guide to battling the IRS and coaxing favorable decisions from agency personnel.”—U.S. News & World Report


    Number of Pages
  • About the Author
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. Inside the IRS: What You Need to Know About IRS Operations

    • IRS Inefficiency
    • Communicating With the IRS
    • Rules of the Game—Tax Laws
    • Interpreting the Tax Code
    • Self-Assessment of Income Taxes
    • Winning the IRS Game

    2. Filing Tax Returns

    • How Long Must You Worry About Not Filing a Tax Return?
    • Consequences of Not Filing
    • It’s Better to File Before the IRS Contacts You
    • What Will Happen When You File Late
    • Requesting an Extension to File
    • Filing a Tax Return When You Can’t Pay What You Owe
    • Filing a Tax Return When You Live Out of the United States
    • Reducing the Chance of an Audit When Filing
    • Amending Tax Returns
    • A Word About “Aggressive” Tax Filing

    3. Winning Your Audit

    • How Long Do I Have to Worry About an Audit?
    • What to Expect at an Audit
    • Do I Have to Learn Tax Law to Win My Audit?
    • Audit Selection—Why Me?
    • When the IRS Increases Your Tax Bill Without an Audit
    • Types of IRS Audits
    • How a Field Auditor Approaches an Examination
    • Preparing for an Audit
    • Who Should Attend the Audit?
    • How to Act at an Audit
    • Finishing Audits
    • Serious Audit Problems

    4. Appealing Your Audit Within the IRS

    • Pros and Cons of Appealing an Audit
    • How to Appeal an Audit
    • How the Independent Office of Appeals Works
    • Preparing for an Appeals Hearing
    • Dealing With the Appeals Officer
    • Presenting a Case to an Appeals Officer
    • Negotiating a Settlement
    • Should You Hire a Tax Professional for Your Appeal?
    • If You Don’t Settle on Appeal

    5. Going to Tax Court: No Lawyer Necessary

    • Tax Court Facts
    • Small Tax Cases—People’s Court
    • Regular Tax Court Cases—Over $50,000
    • Other Federal Courts—Paying First Is Required
    • Bankruptcy Court

    6. When You Owe the IRS: Keeping the Tax Collector at Bay

    • When You Can’t Pay With Your Tax Return
    • Getting Time to Pay After the Tax Bill Comes
    • IRS Tax Billing Process
    • IRS Automated Collection System
    • Revenue Officers—Frontline Collectors of the IRS
    • Offers in Compromise (OICs)
    • Using the Bankruptcy Code to Stop the IRS
    • Protecting Your Assets From the IRS
    • Suspending Collection of Your Tax Bill
    • Collection of Tax Debts by Private Debt Collectors

    7. IRS Enforced Collection: Liens and Levies

    • Federal Tax Liens
    • Getting a Tax Lien Withdrawn
    • Tax Levies = Seizure of Assets
    • Dealing With the IRS Levy Process
    • Assets the IRS Can’t or Won’t Seize
    • Avoiding a Levy
    • Getting a Tax Levy Released
    • IRS Sales of Levied Assets

    8. The Taxpayer Advocate: A Friend at the IRS

    • Who Qualifies for Help From a Taxpayer Advocate?
    • Contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service
    • Emergency Help: Taxpayer Assistance Orders

    9. Family, Friends, Heirs, and the IRS

    • It’s a Family Affair
    • Owning Property Jointly
    • Death and Taxes

    10. Fraud and Tax Crimes: Do You Really Have to Worry?

    • How People Commit Tax Fraud
    • If You Are Caught Cheating
    • IRS Criminal Investigations
    • If You Are Prosecuted

    11. Small Businesses/Self-Employed: When IRS Trouble Comes

    • Self-Employed—You’re a Prime Audit Target
    • Employees or Independent Contractors?
    • Payroll Taxes—IRS Dynamite
    • The Dreaded Trust Fund Recovery Penalty
    • Cash Transactions Over $10,000

    12. Penalties and Interest

    • Penalties Added to Tax Bills
    • Interest on Tax Bills
    • Understanding Penalty and Interest Notices
    • Reducing or Eliminating Penalties and Interest
    • Designating Late Tax Payments

    13. Help Beyond the Book: Tax Professionals and Tax Information

    • Finding and Using a Tax Professional
    • Tax Pros for Serious Audits
    • Hiring a Tax Return Preparer
    • Researching Tax Questions

    14. When You Owe State Income Taxes

    • The IRS and State Taxing Authorities
    • Does Your State Have a Taxpayer Bill of Rights?
    • State Time Limits to Assess and Collect Income Taxes
    • State Tax Collection Departments
    • State Tax Bills
    • When All Else Fails, Try Your Political Connections

    15. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights

    • Taxpayer Bill of Rights I
    • Taxpayer Bill of Rights II
    • Taxpayer Bill of Rights III

    16. The 25 Most Frequently Asked Questions

    Glossary of Tax Terms


  • Sample Chapter
  • Chapter 1

    Inside the IRS: What You Need to Know About IRS Operations

    Let’s take a look at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS’s stated mission is to “Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.”

    A chart of the main IRS divisions appears below. Here is a description of the divisions and offices you’re most likely to encounter.

    National. The IRS is a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and is ruled by a commissioner appointed by the president. The national IRS office sets tone and policy, while procedures—especially audits and collections—are left to the regional and local offices.

    The IRS is divided into four operating divisions, but only two concern most of us: the Wage and Investment Division and the Small Business/ Self-Employed Division.

    IRS campuses. IRS campuses (formerly called “service centers”) annually process over 262 million tax filings, including over 160 million individual income tax returns. IRS campuses collect over $4.9 trillion in tax payments each year. Regional campuses are located in Austin, Kansas City, and Ogden. They mail out tax notices, collection notices, or bills; tax return problem notices; and tax forms. Contacts with the IRS campuses are usually by postal mail or fax, or occasionally by telephone.

    Automated Collection System, or ACS. This program communicates with taxpayers who owe the IRS. It is a computerized collection system staffed by personnel working by phone and mail. You might talk to an ACS person, but you’ll never meet one.

    Local offices. Local IRS offices sit in major cities with suboffices in smaller cities. You can bet one is near you.

    Each local office is divided into several departments, four of which you might encounter: examination, collection, criminal investigation, and Taxpayer Advocate Service.

    Let’s look at these departments in more detail:

    • Examination personnel perform audits, or examinations in IRS-speak. The people who audit tax returns are either tax auditors if they work inside the local IRS office or revenue agents if they come to your home or business, which is called the “field.” The term “auditors” in this book refers to both.
    • Collection personnel collect tax dollars from people who haven’t voluntarily and timely paid. Local IRS collectors are called “revenue ” If your case goes to collection, you or your representative will meet with a collector face to face. The IRS campuses and Automated Collection System are also part of the collection apparatus, but they don’t employ revenue officers.
    • Criminal Investigation is the police force of the IRS, and its employees are called “special ” If you ever meet an IRS criminal investigator, it means that you or someone you know is under investigation for a tax crime.
    • Taxpayer Advocate Service has the IRS troubleshooters to call on when you can’t get tax problems solved through normal IRS channels. These officers are found at IRS campuses and local IRS offices. Taxpayer advocates hold powers to cut through red tape and get things done quickly.

    The total number of IRS permanent and seasonal employees at all levels is approximately 79,000. Auditors make up 25%, collectors 15%, and criminal investigators 3%. The other 57% make policy, run the computers, answer taxpayer inquiries, and God only knows what else. The IRS has been downsized by 22% since 2011. Increased reliance on electronic data processing enables the IRS to continue to function.

    The IRS Is Due to Grow

    The IRS budget fell by 18.5% over the past decade, leading to a 20% decline in the agency’s workforce. Staff reductions have been most significant for revenue officers who collect taxes (a 50% decline to 8,200) and revenue agents who audit complex returns (a 35% decline). Today, the IRS has fewer auditors than at any time since World War II. However, this situation might be about to change.

    In 2022, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, giving the IRS an additional $80 billion in funding over the next decade. This amount was reduced to about $61 billion in 2023, but it’s still the biggest budget increase the IRS has ever received. This funding should be enough to enable the IRS to add thousands of new employees and significantly upgrade its operations.

    Over half of the additional funding is earmarked for enforcement. The IRS plans to hire thousands of new revenue agents over the next several years to increase audits and other enforcement and collection activities. It will focus on larger businesses and high-income individuals (those making over $400,000 per year). One of the IRS’s goals is to increase audits of taxpayers earning $1 million or more by tenfold. For more details on how the IRS plans to spend this windfall, see the Internal Revenue Service Inflation Reduction Act Strategic Operating Plan FY2023-2031 at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p3744.pdf.

    The Taxpayer Roadmap
    For an outstanding overview of the U.S. tax system and its complexities, check out the online Taxpayer Roadmap created by the Taxpayer Advocate. It shows step by step how taxes work from filing through appeal. This map makes the New York City Subway Map look like a child’s doodle. The Taxpayer Roadmap is available at www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/get-help/roadmap.

    The following example shows how the various divisions work.


    1. On April 15, Arnold and Aimee Tyson file their income tax return by mail with their IRS campus.
    2. The information on their return is transmitted to the National Computer Center for analysis and given a potential audit score. If the score is high enough (it is), the return is screened at the IRS campus. If the return is then deemed to have a high enough audit potential (it does), it is sent to their local office.
    3. At the local office, the Tysons’ return is scrutinized again and selected for examination (audit). An IRS agent calls the Tysons or sends them an examination notice.
    4. The Tysons make an appointment with a tax auditor at the local IRS office. (Or alternatively, a revenue agent comes to the Tysons’ business to conduct the audit.)
    5. The auditor looks at the Tysons’ records and suspects fraud. He refers their file to Criminal Investigation for handling by an IRS special agent. The audit is temporarily suspended. A criminal investigation is very rare.
    6. The special agent concludes that the Tysons made many errors, but they were not serious enough to be criminal acts. He sends the file back to the auditor.
    7. The auditor concludes the audit and sends the Tysons an examination report. The report states that they owe the IRS additional taxes, interest, and penalties. The Tysons disagree with the report.
    8. The Tysons file an appeal, or protest, of their audit.
    9. The appeal is heard at the nearest IRS Independent Office of Appeals. The appeals officer upholds the auditor, and the Tysons file a petition in Tax Court. Tax Court is independent of the IRS. The Tysons win a partial victory in Tax Court.
    10. After their Tax Court hearing, the Tysons still owe the IRS. Taxes, interest, and penalties are formally entered, or assessed, in the Tysons’ IRS computer records.
    11. The Tysons receive their first series of computerized collection notices from their IRS Campus. They don’t pay or make only a partial payment.
    12. The IRS campus eventually gives up. Next, collection notices and telephone calls come from an IRS call center.
    13. The Tysons still don’t pay. The IRS call center sends the file to a revenue officer at the local office.
    14. They try to work out a payment plan, but the collector is unreasonable and threatens to take their wages and property. The Tysons seek help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service.
    15. With the help of a taxpayer advocate, they arrange a monthly installment plan. Assuming the Tysons make the payments on time, the case will be closed.
    Tax Return Processing

    From January to May, regional campuses operate around the clock, processing income tax returns, extension requests, and tax payments. Many temporary workers are hired, trained on the job, and paid little more than the minimum wage. IRS officials admit that these seasonal employees sometimes make processing mistakes.

    The IRS strongly encourages all taxpayers to file electronically since it makes processing much easier for the agency. 94% of all individual tax returns are filed electronically. For the 6% of returns filed on paper, machines must open tax return envelopes and remove tax returns and checks. Until recently, human transcribers had to review the paper returns and enter the key tax return data into a computer by hand. However, the IRS now has digital scanning technology to speed up the processing of paper returns.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS had a backlog of millions of paper-filed returns it was unable to process because many of its offices were closed and/or staff were working at home. (IRS employees can’t take returns home.) The backlog has been greatly reduced, but not eliminated.

    Tax return data is sent to computer centers in Detroit, Martinsburg (West Virginia), or Memphis, where each return is computer scored for its “audit potential.” About 10% of all individual (nonbusiness) income tax returns are selected for further review. These files are sent back to the regional campuses. There, IRS classifiers (human beings) weed out most of the 10% scored for audit, based on their opinions of the most problematic tax returns. So, roughly 0.5% to 1% of all individual tax returns filed are selected for further taxpayer contact. (For more information on how returns are selected for audit, see Chapter 3.)

    IRS Inefficiency

    If you’ve never dealt with a bureaucracy, the IRS will give you a lesson in how one operates. The IRS machinery moves slowly and often breaks down. Internally, the IRS is very specialized, which can create problems right at the outset. Often, your first challenge is to locate the right department and person to talk to. Because most IRS employees don’t know or care how the IRS operates outside of their own small area, IRS personnel often don’t know where to direct you.

    Here are the major challenges you’ll encounter in dealing with the IRS.

    Bureaucracy. Civil servants in the IRS bureaucracy are not usually self- starters. For many, the IRS provides an escape from the long hours and competitive pressures of the private business world. Others are gaining work experience or biding their time until a better job comes along. All this results in a paint-by-the-numbers approach which can drive any taxpayer nuts. In contrast, you are highly motivated in your IRS dealings—it’s your pocketbook at stake. What’s important is that you hang in there. Success with the IRS is possible, especially if you are armed with the information and strategies suggested in this book.

    Computers. The IRS loves its computers and would replace all its people with machines if possible. Sometimes your file gets lost in the computer— usually through human error. Often this is good—for example, if you want to delay dealing with the IRS. In many cases, however, it’s better to get your file out of the computer and into human hands. Every individual taxpayer’s IRS file is electronically stored by tax year or period and is computer accessed by Social Security number (SSN), not by name. Returns filed by a business with employees are accessed by the business’s employer identification number (EIN).

    The ultimate computerization goal of the IRS is totally paperless tax returns—a goal it is near to reaching as 94% of all individual tax returns are now filed electronically. The IRS reasons that if all your income, deductions, exemptions, and credits were electronically reported, a paper tax return would be unnecessary. Information returns, such as W-2 and 1099 forms filed by employers, banks, and the like, on paper and electronically, already make it possible for the IRS to prepare tax returns for nonfilers. And electronic tax filing allows tax refunds to be processed quickly without a paper filing.

    Complexity. Americans have the dubious honor of having the most complex income tax laws in the world. The IRS was created to see that we follow the rules. But nobody, including the IRS, understands all of them. It’s no wonder—given that the tax code is full of contradictions and hopelessly unclear provisions. Blame Congress. It’s far easier to pass a tax law than to administer it or to teach a taxpayer or tax professional how to apply it. Each major tax revision produces unworkable tax provisions that are revised or repealed in the next term of Congress.

    Filing tax returns isn’t voluntary. Contrary to what the tax resister,protestor, and Constitutionalist folks might say, income tax filing is not, and has never been, voluntary. Don’t get us wrong. We would love to not file or pay income taxes—but in decades of doing tax work, we haven’t discovered how to do this legally. The only person who can legally skip filing is the one without much, if any, income to report. Many of the tax scamsters are in prison or are destined for that fate. Common sense tells you that government services aren’t free.

    Communicating With the IRS

    If you need to communicate with the IRS, try the telephone first. A specific IRS number should be on the notice that’s causing you concern. If not, call 800-829-1040, the IRS’s toll-free number. Until recently, the IRS didn’t use email to communicate with taxpayers, but this is starting to change. Taxpayers can now respond to some types of IRS notices electronically. Such notices contain a link and unique access code to use.

    If calling doesn’t work and emailing isn’t an option, write a letter. However, be warned: Letters, which the IRS refers to as “white mail,” aren’t the best way to communicate with the IRS. The IRS gets millions of letters every year from earnest, well-meaning taxpayers with legitimate IRS concerns (in addition to letters from cranks). IRS employees are trained to respond to IRS forms, not letters. In addition, due to processing delays that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, the IRS has had a substantial backlog of unprocessed letters and other mailings.

    Before contacting the IRS, find out if there is an IRS form for your problem. The IRS has a form for just about everything. For example, you can request a payment plan on Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request. The clerk who opens the mail will route the form to the proper department right away, but might leave a letter with the same request to languish in a pile. To find out if the IRS has a form for your concern, check the IRS website at www.irs.gov. Alternatively, you can call the IRS at 800-829-1040, or ask a tax adviser.

    Getting Your Tax Data From the IRS

    Can’t find an old tax return or don’t know the balance on an unpaid tax bill or whether the IRS has assessed a penalty? Here are three ways to get your tax data from the IRS:

    IRS tax transcripts. You can get an IRS tax transcript online for whatever year you need by using the IRS Get Transcript Online tool (www.irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript). You must register with the IRS to use this online service. Alternatively, you may postal mail IRS Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return, or call the IRS at 800-908-9946. IRS transcripts are free and you can get them anytime. There are four types of IRS tax transcripts:

    • Tax Account Transcript: This provides an overview of your account, including basic data such as return type, marital status, adjusted gross income, taxable income, and all payment It also shows changes made after you filed your original return, including penalties, assessments, IRS inquiries, and other account activity. This transcript is available for the current tax year and up to 10 prior years using Get Transcript Online or Form 4506-T.
    • Tax Return Transcript: A Tax Return Transcript isn’t a copy of your return, but it shows key parts, including income reports from sources such as banks and employers. It also shows that you filed (or didn’t file) a tax return for a specific year. It doesn’t show changes after you filed your return. This transcript is only available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years.
    • Record of Account Transcript: This combines the tax return and tax account transcripts into one complete It’s available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years using Get Transcript Online or Form 4506-T.
    • Wage and Income Transcript: This shows data from IRS information returns such as Forms W-2 and 1099 reporting how much you were paid by employers, banks, and the like. Current tax year information might not be complete until This data is helpful if you’re missing W-2 or 1099 forms and need to prepare a tax return. The information also lets you match your records against what others have reported to the IRS to let you check for discrepancies. Also, if you are ever audited, the auditor will have this data to compare against your tax return. This transcript is available for up to 10 prior years using Get Transcript Online or Form 4506-T.

    Tax returns. If you want a complete photocopy of an old tax return instead of a transcript, use IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, and make a payment of $43 for each year you need a copy. The form is available on the IRS website and has the mailing address where it should be filed based on your geographic area.

    Access tax account online. You can register with the IRS (www.irs.gov/payments/your-online-account) and access your account balance and other payment and billing records online. To get the total amount of your tax debt, type “payoff” in the www.IRS.gov search line and select the “Your Online Account” page.

    How Your Tax Information Can Become Public

    The federal Privacy Act prohibits the IRS from disclosure of an individual’s tax records. However, your tax information can become public in four notable ways:

    Tax lien. The IRS may file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien in the public records if you owe back taxes. You see this occasionally in the news, especially when it happens to celebrities like Willie Nelson and Nicolas Cage.

    Tax crimes. If you are formally charged with a tax crime, the government will break the news. Personal tax information will come to light at a public trial. Actor Wesley Snipes’s tax history became an open book in his trial—and conviction.

    Taxpayers and others. Nothing stops you or us from telling others about our private tax life. And, other third parties can bring some tax secrets to light. Take former Congressman Charles Rangel. A public interest group reviewing certain required financial disclosures by members of Congress found and made public some questionable tax items. The publicity around the disclosure ended up in Rangel’s giving up his chairmanship of certain committees and he was reprimanded.

    State tax and law enforcement agencies. The IRS shares taxpayer data with 49 states (Nevada is the exception). Also, under certain circumstances, your tax information is available to law enforcement agencies.

    Access to Tax Data Under the FOIA

    All federal governmental agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. This law guarantees access to all data the IRS has in its files about you and about internal IRS operations. You aren’t entitled to information about other taxpayers, which is protected from disclosure by the Privacy Act. And sensitive information, such as how the IRS conducts criminal investigations and whether you are under investigation, is exempted from the FOIA.

    The FOIA gives you access to the contents of your IRS files, such as notes of IRS agents, workpapers, computations, and opinions. This information is particularly useful if you are contesting an IRS decision, including an audit or a bill.

    Getting information under the FOIA involves making a simple written request. (A sample letter is in Chapter 4.) If you’re lucky, the IRS will respond to your request within 30 days. Unfortunately, however, the IRS gives a very low priority to complying with FOIA requests; after all, this is not a function that brings in money. Typically, the first response you receive is a letter stating that the IRS needs more time to get the materials.

    Delayed responses aren’t the only problem; the IRS edits out materials it doesn’t think you are legally entitled to—which might be exactly what you are looking for. Frequently, a person who doesn’t understand the FOIA, such as an auditor or a collector, is given the file to decide what you will get. Often, you have no way of knowing what was left out. The form letter accompanying what is sent to you routinely states that materials were withheld under certain statutes. Occasionally, you’ll get all the materials with blackouts on the pages. We have seen some documents 90% blacked out! This usually happens if you’ve been the subject of an IRS criminal investigation.

    You can appeal, but the FOIA Appeals Office is several years behind in deciding appeals. So, many taxpayers are forced to proceed without having the IRS provide all documents as required under the FOIA.

    A sure way to counter the IRS’s disregard of the FOIA is to file a lawsuit against the IRS in federal court. Going to court is prohibitively expensive for most people. But 9 times out of 10, the IRS complies with your original FOIA request within days or weeks of your filing the lawsuit, without your having to get near a courtroom.

    Detailed guidance on the FOIA can be found on the IRS website—search “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Guidelines.”

    Rules of the Game—Tax Laws

    Congress writes the tax laws, which become part of the Internal Revenue Code, IRC, or tax code for short. The tax code is amended every year. The present tax code is over 4,000 pages long. It’s hard to keep up, even for a tax adviser. Thankfully, most of the tax code isn’t applicable to the average citizen taxpayer.

    The Income Tax: Past and Future

    Our income tax has its roots in the Civil War when Honest Abe asked Congress for money to finance the war effort. Enacted in 1862, the first tax law lasted until 1872. The Supreme Court struck the second income tax law down, which led to the passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which led to the basic law we have today.

    In 1913, the tax rate was just 1% on all corporations and individuals. But few people paid income taxes, because the standard exemption was $3,000 for single people ($4,000 for married couples), and almost no one earned this much. In fact, only 1 out of every 271 Americans paid any income tax the first year. By 1919, another war had broken out, and the maximum rate soared to 77%.

    Today, the highest federal income tax rate is 37%. With Social Security, Medicare, and various state income taxes added on, the total tax can be as high as 50% for individuals. That might seem high, but it’s among the lowest in the developed world.

    The one-size-fits-all flat tax is a constant political issue. The flat tax is simple, pure, and has a lot of appeal. Is it likely to become law? Even small changes to the tax code have widespread repercussions—to the banking, real estate, housing, manufacturing, and charitable industries—affecting just about everyone. Once special interest groups gear up to protect their niches in the tax code, it can become difficult to make major changes to existing laws.

    Part of the problem is that many tax laws are passed for purposes other than raising money. For example, tax laws can have a social goal, such as attempting to alleviate the housing problem by giving tax breaks to those who invest in low-income housing. Or there might be an economic goal to stimulate manufacturing by allowing rapid tax write-offs to buyers of new business equipment. And there are purely political reasons for tax laws. Many special interest groups, such as oil companies, horse breeders, broadcasters, insurance companies, and even major league baseball clubs, have gotten tax laws passed designed to give them special treatment. These special provisions of the tax code outnumber the laws of general application.

    Interpreting the Tax Code

    Congress gave the IRS the power to interpret the tax code. This interpretation is done primarily through a series of IRS regulations and other pronouncements. The regulations are expanded versions of some tax code provisions, with illustrations of how the law is applied in different situations. The regulations are about four times the length of the tax code itself. The IRS also publishes revenue rulings, revenue procedures, and letter rulings, which provide guidance to taxpayers.

    There are thousands of situations where it is not clear exactly how the tax law should be applied. In these gray areas, disputes often arise between the IRS and the taxpayer. This is where the tax professionals earn their keep—by fitting the tax code most advantageously to a client’s case. Or put another way, if the tax case is analogized to the fence around Farmer Brown’s cabbage patch, the perimeter has gotten so long and twisted that a self-respecting rabbit might have a decent chance of finding enough room to wiggle through or under it.

    The IRS is not the final word on interpreting the tax code. The federal court system, composed of the U.S. Tax Court, federal district courts, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, all have the power to decide, on a case-by-case basis, how Congress intended the tax laws to be applied. Any taxpayer or the IRS, unhappy with a court’s tax decision interpreting the tax code, can appeal to a circuit court of appeal and, in rare cases, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Self-Assessment of Income Taxes

    The U.S. income tax system is based on a self-assessment theory. You are responsible for reporting your income and telling the government how much tax you owe. You assess your own income tax every time you file a tax return. This doesn’t mean that the system is voluntary or that you have a legal choice whether to assess taxes against yourself. Despite what some tax protestor organizations contend, you must file a tax return if you earn above a specified annual minimum income amount.

    The IRS’s job is to determine whether you obeyed the self-assessment principle and the tax code by:

    • reporting all your income
    • stating the correct amount of taxes due, and
    • paying the taxes

    If the IRS suspects that you have violated your self-assessment obligation, you might be audited and billed for an additional assessment. If you don’t file a tax return, the IRS is empowered to calculate and assess the tax for you.

    Winning the IRS Game

    If you file and pay your taxes on time and never get an IRS notice, then you’re already winning the IRS game and probably don’t need this book—at least not yet.

    The rest of us who encounter the IRS up close and personal still have a chance to win, or at least to not lose disastrously. This means keeping your income and assets away from the IRS and staying out of jail. And this is one game where, despite your coach having told you “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” you darn well want to win.

    Great, but you won’t win the IRS game unless you know the rules. This book tells you the most important rules—written and unwritten—and helps you develop a game plan.

    Let’s call the IRS team the Goliaths and your team the Goodguys. On paper, the Goliaths look unbeatable, but on the playing field it comes down to the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players. Here’s an analysis of the teams and players.

    Goliaths have experience. You’re a rookie, so even the weakest IRS team member is ahead of you. But they probably can’t make it a runaway—the IRS is characterized by low morale and a high rate of employee turnover. Score seven for the Goliaths in the first quarter, 7–0.

    Goodguys have motivation and the advantage here every time. Coaches say that motivation is the key to winning. The Goliath player gets the same pay, win or lose, while the Goodguys are playing to keep their money. Score seven for the Goodguys in the second quarter. It’s tied at the half, 7–7.

    The game will be decided in the second half. You have to be prepared to go the distance. Know what you’re doing and show strength and perseverance to the IRS. Keep your cool and don’t beat yourself. Remember the words of Pogo, the comic strip philosopher: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    A costly victory—the wrong way to play. One way to lose is to play the IRS without bothering to learn the rules of the game, preparing, or devising a game plan. You’ll lose if you ignore IRS contacts or respond incorrectly, miss deadlines, or lie to IRS employees. Charlie is a prime example.

    EXAMPLE: Charlie had been having IRS problems for eight years when he called a tax professional, Sheila. He had lost an IRS audit, an appeal, and then in Tax Court. When the tax bills came, he threw them away. Charlie believed he was right, and he was sticking to his principles.

    An IRS collector repeatedly warned Charlie that his business assets were going to be sold at auction to pay the tax bill. Sheila asked when the sale was to take place. “Tomorrow,” Charlie replied. She agreed to try to help Charlie but made no promises—the game was just about over and he was behind by several touchdowns.

    Sheila called the IRS and got a postponement of the auction for 30 days to give Charlie a chance to get a home equity loan to pay the taxes. He tried, but the bank didn’t approve the loan. The IRS refused another postponement and sold the business assets for $92,000.

    The sad part is that if Charlie had sought tax advice at the beginning of the game, he would have been able to settle with the IRS for $38,000. By stubbornly refusing to meet the problem, he lost his business. Charlie needed to know the rules and needed a plan before playing the IRS game.

    The Internal Revenue Service Annual Report provides a wealth of information about IRS organization and performance. View or download it at the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

    Chapter Highlights
    • The IRS is an inefficient megabureaucracy and not the all-knowing Big Brother it would like us to believe it is.
    • Successfully dealing with the IRS comes from knowing basic IRS procedures and following those procedures.
    • It is possible to beat the IRS at its own game by perseverance and going up the IRS ladder to solve problems.

    We hope you enjoyed this sample chapter. The complete book is available for sale here at Nolo.com.


5 Reviews
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1 Star

Insightful book filled with advice which more than covers its cost

By Gene K.

This book was easy to read and written with a touch of good humor which makes Stand Up to the IRS easy to comprehend and very relatable. The author provides valuable insight and advice throughout . Highly recommended.

Posted on 1/9/2024


By Jackie D.

Great read

Posted on 1/9/2024

No More Bullying !!!

By Deborah L.

Not only does Stand Up to the IRS make understanding tax laws possible, it made me realize that I have been a victim of bullying !!! I am now proceeding to become knowledgeable and informed thus enabling me to regain my dignity, self respect, and self worth.

Posted on 1/9/2024

A must read for everyone who files or should be filing taxes.

By Terrence K.

Book is well written and presented very clearly for both professional taxpayers (which we all qualify as) and paid tax prepares. I highly recomend the book for a basic understanding of the tax laws, the persons who administer the law and the rest of US.

Posted on 1/9/2024



good instructions

Posted on 1/9/2024

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