Q. I owe a fairly large amount to the IRS. What can I do to see if the sum can be lowered? Peter Panicked
Dear Mr. Panicked: Believe it or not, the IRS tells us they can be "friendly" when the occasion arises. Extenuating circumstances truly might make a difference in what you owe to Uncle Sam, if you're an honest and aboveboard taxpayer.
If you can't pay your bill all at once, apply to set up an installment program, which will let you pay what you owe over months or even years. Unfortunately, you'll need to also pay a fee of up to $105, plus interest - the rate of which can change quarterly. Figure out the largest amount you can pay upfront and file your taxes along with this check. Then use the application found at www.irs.gov/individuals to set up the plan.
If you don't feel you can pay your bill in six years, download IRS Form 656B; complete the worksheet form 433A to discover the absolute minimum amount you MUST offer to pay. File and mail both forms. Uncle Sam will soon get back to you.
Perhaps we can pay, but the amount will be late because of trials and tribulations from which many of us suffer. (In fact, there are an estimated 10.4 million of us who didn't file on time last year.) If extenuating circumstances - again - make this figure on the line, such as divorce, death of an immediate family member, natural disaster, and so forth, we may be exempted from the fees of a late filing penalty of 4.5 percent monthly on the balance, plus 3.19 percent interest a year. However, it's imperative to contact the IRS to plead your case.
Attorney Robert E. McKenzie, whose practice focuses on tax disputes, urges folks to mail a certified letter return-receipt requested to the past-due notice address sent by the agency. Explain why you are late and say something along these lines: "I believe I have reasonable cause for failing to pay my taxes in a timely manner and am requesting abatement of the late-filing and late-payment penalties and interest."