Are you seeking financial relief from a tax liability for an amount less than the full amount owed? The Internal Revenue Service has published the following Tax Topic 204 as a guide for taxpayers seeking relief from a tax liability for an amount less than the full amount owed.
An offer in compromise (OIC) is an agreement between a taxpayer and the Internal Revenue Service that settles the taxpayer's tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. Taxpayers who can fully pay the liabilities through an installment agreement or other means will not qualify for an OIC in most cases. In order to qualify for an OIC, the taxpayer must have filed all tax returns, made all required estimated tax payments for the current year, and made all required federal tax deposits for the current quarter if the taxpayer is a business owner with employees.
In most cases, the IRS will not accept an OIC unless the amount offered by a taxpayer is equal to or greater than the reasonable collection potential (the RCP). The RCP is how the IRS measures the taxpayer's ability to pay. The RCP includes the value that can be realized from the taxpayer's assets, such as real property, automobiles, bank accounts, and other property. In addition to property, the RCP also includes anticipated future income less certain amounts allowed for basic living expenses.
The IRS may accept an OIC based on three grounds:
First, the IRS can accept a compromise if there is doubt as to liability. A compromise meets this only when there is a genuine dispute as to the existence or amount of the correct tax debt under the law.
Second, the IRS can accept a compromise if there is doubt that the amount owed is fully collectible. Doubt as to collectability exists in any case where the taxpayer's assets and income are less than the full amount of the tax liability.
Third, the IRS can accept a compromise based on effective tax administration. An offer may be accepted based on effective tax administration when there is no doubt that the tax is legally owed and that the full amount owed can be collected, but requiring payment in full would either create an economic hardship or would be unfair and inequitable because of exceptional circumstances.
In general, a taxpayer must submit a $186 application fee with the Form 656. Do not combine this fee with any other tax payments. However, there are two exceptions to this requirement:
First, no application fee is required if the OIC is based on doubt as to liability.
Second, the fee is not required if the taxpayer is an individual (not a corporation, partnership, or other entity) who qualifies for the low-income exception. This exception applies if the taxpayer's total monthly income falls at or below 250 percent of the poverty guidelines published by the Department of Health and Human Services. Section 4 of Form 656 contains the Low Income Certification guidelines to assist taxpayers in determining whether they qualify for the low-income exception. A taxpayer who claims the low-income exception must complete section 4 of Form 656 and check the certification box.
Taxpayers may choose to pay the offer amount in a lump sum or in installment payments. A "lump sum cash offer" is defined as an offer payable in five or fewer installments within five or fewer months after the offer is accepted. If a taxpayer submits a lump sum cash offer, the taxpayer must include with the Form 656 a nonrefundable payment equal to 20 percent of the offer amount. This payment is required in addition to the $186 application fee. The 20 percent payment is nonrefundable, meaning it will not be returned to the taxpayer even if the offer is rejected or returned to the taxpayer without acceptance. Instead, the 20 percent payment will be applied to the taxpayer's tax liability. The taxpayer has a right to specify the particular tax liability to which the IRS will apply the 20 percent payment.
An offer is called a "periodic payment offer" under the tax law if it is payable in six or more monthly installments and within 24 months after the offer is accepted. When submitting a periodic payment offer, the taxpayer must include the first proposed installment payment along with the Form 656. This payment is required in addition to the $186 application fee. This amount is nonrefundable, just like the 20 percent payment required for a lump sum cash offer. Also, while the IRS is evaluating a periodic payment offer, the taxpayer must continue to make the installment payments provided for under the terms of the offer. These amounts are also nonrefundable. These amounts are applied to the tax liabilities, and the taxpayer has a right to specify the particular tax liabilities to which the periodic payments will be applied.
Ordinarily, the statutory time within which the IRS may engage in collection activities is suspended during the period that the OIC is under consideration, and it is further suspended if the OIC is rejected by the IRS and if the taxpayer appeals the rejection to the IRS Office of Appeals within 30 days from the date of the notice of rejection.
If the IRS accepts the taxpayer's offer, the IRS expects that the taxpayer will have no further delinquencies and will fully comply with the tax laws. If the taxpayer does not abide by all the terms and conditions of the OIC, the IRS may determine that the OIC is in default. For doubt as to collectability and effective tax administration OICs, the terms and conditions include a requirement that the taxpayer timely file all tax returns and timely pay all taxes for five years from the date of acceptance of the OIC. When an OIC is declared to be in default, the agreement is no longer in effect and the IRS may then collect the amounts originally owed (less payments made), plus interest and penalties. Additionally, any refunds due within the calendar year in which the offer is accepted will be applied to the tax debt.
If the IRS rejects an OIC, the taxpayer will be notified by mail. The letter will explain the reason that the IRS rejected the offer and will provide detailed instructions on how the taxpayer may appeal the decision to the IRS Office of Appeals. The appeal must be made within 30 days from the date of the letter. In some cases, an OIC is returned to the taxpayer rather than rejected, because the taxpayer has not submitted necessary information, has filed for bankruptcy, has failed to include a required application fee or nonrefundable payment with the offer, or has failed to file tax returns or pay current tax liabilities while the offer is under consideration. A return is different from a rejection because there is no right to appeal the IRS's decision to return the offer.