While many Americans look forward to tax season and the promise of a rewarding tax return, there are plenty of those who dread it, as they’ll have to fork over cash to settle up with the Internal Revenue Service. But for those who find they can’t afford to pay what they owe — whether in back taxes or due to other circumstances — the Federal Trade Commission is warning tax payers to avoid companies offering tax relief help.
The FTC just settled a case against American Tax Relief, which it says took more than $100 million from consumers by claiming it could help shrink their tax debts. The only thing to reduce how much you owe the government is to um, pay them until you don’t owe anymore.
Those kinds of companies offer to help consumers apply for IRS hardship programs that people often don’t qualify for, and they find themselves still straddled with tax debt and out whatever cash they paid to the fraudsters.
Instead, the FTC has a few simple tips to help you pay what you owe. The operative idea here being, you’re going to have to pay but it doesn’t have to be a terrifying, overwhelming experience.
Pay attention to IRS notices about what you owe: Carefully read any paperwork from the IRS or state comptroller, and contact them to discuss collection alternatives. The IRS offers payment options and information online, including videos on what to do if you find yourself owing.
There’s also the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS that provides free help to people in financial difficulty or who need help resolving a problem with the IRS. Call 1-877-777-4778 or go online here.
Ignore companies promising tax relief: Even if a company says you’re qualified or eligible for a program that could resolve your tax debt, only the IRS or state comptroller can determine that. Check with the IRS first. That goes for any company that requires a fee before they’ll help you.