From the July 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Do you have a nagging tax issue you can't seem to resolve with the IRS? If so, the IRS' Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) could be the source of help you're looking for.

An independent branch of the IRS, TAS works to assist with tax snafus that businesses and individual taxpayers haven't been able to resolve through other IRS channels. TAS helps taxpayers with everything from tracking down overdue refunds to locating missing tax payments.

One of the most common problems entrepreneurs face is understanding and complying with the complexities of payroll taxes. "Unresolved problems in this area often deal with not paying the required payroll deposits because of a change in deposit methods," says Cheryl Harskowitch, director of TAS' Taxpayer Account Operations. TAS can't erase these requirements, but it can help business owners work out an acceptable resolution. TAS will also educate the taxpayer to prevent future tax problems.

By law, you can receive free assistance from an advocate if you face:

  • economic hardships or significant costs due to your tax problem,
  • a 30-day delay to resolve the issue, or
  • a response deadline that was promised by the IRS and has not been met.

If your case qualifies, you are assigned an advocate who helps you navigate the federal tax system and resolve your tax headache. (If your problem doesn't fall under any of the situations mentioned above, you can still receive TAS services free of charge. It's rare for a taxpayer to be turned away.) In 2003, TAS closed more than 205,000 open cases.

According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), however, some CPAs believe TAS may not be as effective as it could be, due in part to the recent IRS reorganization efforts. Specifically, some AICPA members have cited inconsistency in service by some local TAS offices. Others have recommended that local advocates receive additional training.

"Nina Olson, [head of TAS and] National Taxpayer Advocate, and TAS are heavily committed to training employees so they understand what it means to be an advocate," Harskowitch responds. TAS plans a comprehensive four-year training program for advocates that promises to address technical competencies and overall advocacy principles. Harskowitch says a recent customer satisfaction survey done by Gallup found that the majority of customers are satisfied with TAS' service.

AICPA's Benson S. Goldstein says TAS provides taxpayers with an excellent program: "We are encouraged and will continue to work for additional improvements."

To contact TAS, call its toll-free number, (877) 777-4778. You can also talk to your tax preparer about contacting TAS. To determine what information you'll need to provide TAS and to find out what forms you'll need to complete, go to www.irs.gov/advocate.


Great Falls, Virginia, writer Joan Szabo has reported on tax issues for 17 years.