The IRS’s streamlined offer-in-compromise (OIC) program is intended to speed up the processing of OICs for qualified taxpayers. Having started in 2010, the streamlined OIC program is relatively new. The IRS recently issued instructions to its examiners, urging them to process streamlined OICs as expeditiously as possible. One recent survey estimates that one in 15 taxpayers is now in arrears on tax payments to the IRS to at least some degree. Because of continuing fallout from the economic downturn, however, the IRS has tried to speed up its compromise process to the advantage of both hard-pressed taxpayers and its collection numbers.
The IRS OIC program on its face can appear very attractive to taxpayers with unpaid liabilities. An OIC is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. Keep in mind that taxpayers do not automatically qualify for an OIC. The IRS has cautioned that, absent special circumstances, if you have the ability to fully pay your tax liability in a lump sum or via an installment agreement, an OIC will not be accepted.
The IRS may accept an offer in compromise based on three grounds:
Doubt as to collectibility
Doubt as to liability
Effective tax administration
The decision whether to accept or reject an OIC is entirely within the discretion of the IRS. Sometimes, but very rarely, an OIC will be deemed accepted because the IRS failed to reject it within 24 months of receiving the offer.
The low acceptance rate of OICs has some lawmakers in Congress and taxpayer groups upset. One of the most vocal critics has been National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson who has urged the IRS to bring more taxpayers into the OIC program. Partly in response to this criticism, the IRS launched the streamlined OIC in 2010. The streamlined OIC program is intended to cut through much of the red tape that surrounds OICs. The IRS promised, among other things, to process streamlined OICs more quickly.
In February 2011, the IRS announced some changes to streamlined OICs. Streamlined OICs may be offered to taxpayers with total household incomes of $100,000 or less and who have a total tax liability of less than $50,000. Taxpayers who do not meet these requirements may apply for a traditional OIC.
The streamlined procedures do not necessarily mean that the IRS will accept more OICs; merely that it will process the offers it receives more quickly. Since the streamlined OIC program is relatively new, the IRS has not yet reported how many streamlined offers it has accepted.
Before accepting or rejecting a streamlined OIC, IRS examiners must verify that the information provided by the taxpayer is correct. The IRS instructed examiners reviewing streamlined OICs to verify taxpayer information through internal research. Examiners will verify ownership of items such as real estate, motor vehicles and other property.
Examiners also will be able to communicate directly with taxpayers or their representatives. The IRS instructed examiners to contact taxpayers or their representatives by telephone whenever possible; rather than sending written notices. Three phone attempts should be made over two business days to contact the taxpayer or his/her representative. If the examiner reaches the taxpayer’s voicemail, the examiners should request a call-back within two business days.
The streamlined OIC program is not for everyone. Indeed, the acceptance rate for all OICs (just about 13,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2010) means that relatively few taxpayers will make an offer that the IRS will accept. Nonetheless, the OIC program is one tool that may be used by taxpayers with unpaid liabilities. If you have any questions about the IRS’s streamlined OIC or traditional OIC, please contact our office.