The Internal Revenue Service has announced a major expansion of its “Fresh Start” initiative to help struggling taxpayers.
Under the new Fresh Start provisions, certain taxpayers who have been unemployed for 30 days or longer will be able to avoid failure-to-pay penalties. In addition, the IRS is doubling the dollar threshold for taxpayers eligible for installment agreements to help more people qualify for the program.
“We have an obligation to work with taxpayers who are struggling to make ends meet," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This new approach makes sense for taxpayers and for the nation’s tax system, and it’s part of a wider effort we have underway to help struggling taxpayers."
To assist those most in need, a six-month grace period on failure-to-pay penalties will be made available to certain wage earners and self-employed individuals. The request for an extension of time to pay will result in relief from the failure to pay penalty for tax year 2011 only if the tax, interest and any other penalties are fully paid by Oct. 15, 2012.
The penalty relief will be available to two categories of taxpayers:
- Wage earners who have been unemployed at least 30 consecutive days during 2011, or in 2012 up to the April 17 deadline for filing a federal tax return this year.
- Self-employed individuals who experienced a 25 percent or greater reduction in business income in 2011 due to the economy.
This penalty relief is subject to income limits. A taxpayer’s income must not exceed $200,000 if he or she files as married filing jointly, or not exceed $100,000 if he or she files as single or head of household. This penalty relief is also restricted to taxpayers whose calendar year 2011 balance due does not exceed $50,000.
Taxpayers meeting the eligibility criteria will need to complete a new Form 1127A to seek the 2011 penalty relief, available at IRS.gov/form1127.
The failure-to-pay penalty is generally half of 1 percent per month with an upper limit of 25 percent. Under this new relief, taxpayers can avoid that penalty until Oct. 15, 2012, which is six months beyond this year’s filing deadline. However, the IRS is still legally required to charge interest on unpaid back taxes and does not have the authority to waive this charge, which is currently 3 percent on an annual basis.
Failure-to-file penalties applied to unpaid taxes remain in effect and are generally 5 percent per month, also with a 25 percent cap.
Further, the IRS announced, effective immediately, the threshold for using an installment agreement without having to supply the IRS with a financial statement has been raised from $25,000 to $50,000.
Taxpayers who owe up to $50,000 in back taxes will now be able to enter into a streamlined agreement with the IRS that stretches the payment out over a series of months or years. The maximum term for streamlined installment agreements has also been raised to 72 months from the current 60-month maximum.
Taxpayers seeking installment agreements exceeding $50,000 will still need to supply the IRS with a Collection Information Statement (Form 433-A or Form 433-F). Taxpayers may also pay down their balance due to $50,000 or less to take advantage of this payment option.
An installment agreement is an option for those who cannot pay their entire tax bills by the due date. Penalties are reduced, although interest continues to accrue on the outstanding balance. In order to qualify for the new expanded streamlined installment agreement, a taxpayer must agree to monthly direct debit payments. Taxpayers can set up an installment agreement with the IRS by going to the Online Payment Agreement (OPA) page on IRS.gov and following the instructions.