Many taxpayers get frustrated when dealing with the IRS Automated Collection System (ACS). After what can be some long wait times, taxpayers are sometimes presented with seemingly inflexible options for resolving their balance due to the IRS. After reaching an impasse with ACS, they often resort to hiring professional help to resolve their tax problems. While I do appreciate the business from prospective clients, I am sympathetic to their financial difficulties and encourage them to at least try to resolve their own tax issues before turning to professional assistance. In the spirit of trying to encourage this, I have put together a short list of some of my best strategies for dealing with ACS.
One of my favorite sayings is that you win more flies with honey than with vinegar. No truer is that statement than in my experience dealing with the IRS Automated Collection System. In spite of any negative feelings you may have about paying taxes or about the IRS in general, realize the person on the other end of the phone is not to blame. They are people too. They have lives and families outside of the IRS. Many of them work for the IRS because they have a love of public service and/or of our country. And they have a truly thankless job. All day long, people yell, curse at, and are generally nasty to these people. Even though most of them are pretty thick skinned, sometimes I hear the trepidation of having to take another call and deal with who knows what on the other end of that phone call.
So the first thing to do when you get on the phone with the IRS Automated Collection System representative is to disarm any hostility. I thank them for taking my call if I have been waiting on hold for a really long time. Or I find out what area of the country they are stationed in and find any commonality that I may have with them (ex. Philadelphia, my father used to live in Amblin; Memphis, boy I sure do miss the BBQ at Tops). If I do not have one, I make small talk and try to make the phone call as pleasant as I can. It is much easier to get a favor, like a hold on adverse collection activity, from someone who likes you. Often I have found that you can get farther with a kind word and by being polite to the representative than the best knowledge of IRS collections procedure.
When you call the IRS Automated Collection System, remember that you are about to have a conversation with someone that is going to impact your financial situation the most. The person on the other end of the phone deals with hundreds of cases in a given months. The fact of the matter is that this means more to you than it does to them. So you need to have your story straight before going into the phone call. Keep in mind what the result is that you are seeking and try to steer the representative toward giving you that resolution. For example, instead of telling the representative that you want to be set up on a payment plan, tell them you need to be set up on a $200 per month payment plan. Instead of asking for a hold on any adverse collection activity, ask them for two additional weeks and promise that you will resolve your account within that time period. By setting the tone of the conversation, you start out by defining a clear objective for the call. Whether or not the IRS Automated Collection System representative can actually grant your request, at least you have a starting point in your negotiations to work off of.
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