An offer in compromise (OIC) is an agreement between a taxpayer and the Internal Revenue Service that settles a 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, generally won’t qualify for an OIC in most cases. 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 won’t accept an OIC unless the amount offered by a taxpayer is equal to or greater than what is called the reasonable collection potential (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.
Reasons for the Offer
The IRS may accept an OIC based on three grounds:
- First, the IRS can accept a compromise if there’s doubt as to liability. A compromise meets this only when there’s 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’s doubt that the amount owed is fully collectible. Doubt as to collectibility 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’s 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 an application fee for the amount stated on Form 656. Don’t 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 isn’t 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 1 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 1 of Form 656 and check the certification box.
Lump Sum Cash Offer – 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 5 or fewer installments within 5 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 application fee. The 20 percent payment is generally nonrefundable, meaning it won’t 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.
Periodic Payment Offer – An offer is called a “periodic payment offer” under the tax law if it’s payable in 6 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 application fee. This amount is generally 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.
Upon acceptance of an OIC, the taxpayer may no longer designate offer payments to any tax liability specifically covered in the offer agreement.
Suspension of Collection
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 is further suspended if the OIC is rejected by the IRS and where 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 doesn’t abide by all the terms and conditions of the OIC, the IRS may determine that the OIC is in default. For doubt as to collectibility 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 5 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 you owe the IRS, or receive a letter from the IRS, you need to come see us!
The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic – Low Income Taxpayer Clinic can consult with you to provide advice regarding your IRS tax problem, and/or potentially act on your behalf for FREE if you qualify for assistance (come to a clinic intake session)!
Jim Floyd is the Staff Enrolled Agent at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic – Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. As an Enrolled Agent, Jim is a federally-licensed tax practitioner with unlimited rights to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. This means he is unrestricted as to which taxpayers he can represent, what types of tax matters he can handle, and which IRS offices he can represent clients before. Enrolled agent status is the highest credential the IRS awards.
Jim is also a member of The American Society of Tax Problem Solvers (ASTPS), a non-profit professional association of practitioners that specialize in representing taxpayers before the IRS and other taxing authorities. Membership in ASTPS reflects commitment to excellence and high standards in taxpayer representation
Source: Internal Revenue Service