IRS Commissioner: We are Here to Help

With the deadline to file your taxes just hours away, we spoke to Douglas Shulman, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, who had some insight into what the tax authority is doing differently this year to help taxpayers suffering from a deep recession and uncertain job market.

For starters, the $787 billion stimulus bill, signed by President Obama in February, is going to help the IRS alleviate some taxpayer pain. If you bought a new home or car this past year, you may now be eligible for a refund thanks to the stimulus, Shulman said. If you own a small business and took a loss this year, you can carry back that loss and get some taxes you paid previously. The key is to distribute the money in the stimulus out as quickly as possible so that it can, well, stimulate the slumping economy – and the best way it does that is by going right into the hands of taxpayers.

Shulman pressed the point that he has personally given his IRS collection agents – what he called the people on the “front lines” of tax collecting – new and extra flexibility to work with people directly who are having trouble paying their taxes this year. There are many Americans who have always been upstanding taxpayers but have fallen on hard times since the financial collapse and are now finding it difficult to make any payments.

If you have filled out a return and just cannot pay it, you should still file on time anyway, Shulman said, and then contact the IRS to work out a payment plan. If you just haven’t gotten around to filling out the paperwork, file for an automatic six month extension. Whatever you do, send the IRS something that’s postmarked by April 15 (tomorrow!). Otherwise the penalties and interest will begin to stack up and your chances of getting help will diminish.

Addressing the tax code, Shulman explained that the IRS doesn’t actually write tax laws but is working to help people who are wrestling with the complexities of tax law (the U.S. tax code is four times as long as War & Peace, the commissioner said he likes to point out) and the authority has people standing by who can answer your questions and walk you through the process of filing a return, regardless of your income status.