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What to do if you receive a letter from the IRS

Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team
woman holding letter from irs

The IRS sends out millions of letters to taxpayers across the country every year. The news contained in the letter might be good or bad. If the letter has bad news, don’t worry. You can find help. The best thing to do is respond promptly if needed.

Why would the IRS send me a letter?

When you receive a letter from the IRS, your first thought probably is that you’re being audited, but this isn’t necessarily true. Your letter might be the IRS telling you that:

  • You owe the IRS money
  • Your tax return required corrections
  • Your tax return is delayed
  • The IRS has a question about your tax return
  • Your refund is different than you previously thought
  • The IRS needs to verify your identity

Whatever the letter says, it’s best to open it and read it calmly. Whether the news is good or bad, tax professionals can help make sense of it and take prompt action.

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I received a letter from the IRS. Now what?

1. Make sure the letter isn’t a scam

The first crucial step is to make sure you’re not being scammed. Scammers know posing as the IRS frightens people and can cause them to send out sensitive information without considering the consequences. That’s the last thing you want to do.

The correspondence is a scam if the tone is angry or if it uses scare tactics such as threatening you with arrest or demanding payments without giving you the chance to appeal or ask questions. IRS letters are objective in tone, not hysterical. It’s also a scam letter if it asks you for specific payment information by mail or over the phone. This is a sign of a scammer trying to obtain credit card or debit card information. Also, the IRS never communicates by text, email or social media. Communication by these methods is always a scam.

If you’re unsure whether the letter you received from the IRS is legitimate, call the agency at (800) 829-1040. IRS agents will help you determine the source of the letter.

2. Take action

Once you’ve carefully read the letter, it’s time to take action. You may need to respond to the letter by a specific date. Make sure to avoid any penalties and preserve your right to appeal by meeting his deadline. If the letter doesn’t explicitly ask for a response, then no response is required. Make sure to:

  • Follow any instructions in the letter
  • If you owe money, pay it. If you are unable to pay, you can apply for an Offer in Compromise or Online Payment Agreement
  • Keep a copy of the letter for your records
  • If you have any questions, contact the IRS. You can find the agency’s phone number in the top right-hand corner of the letter

3. Avoid future IRS letters

The best way to avoid negative letters from the IRS is to file your tax returns accurately and on time. The most common cause for a letter from the IRS is a mistake on your tax return. Reviewing your tax returns carefully before filing can reduce the risk of this.

Bottom line: Stay calm and respond

Letters from the IRS can be good or bad. The best thing to do is to calmly read the letter, make sure it isn’t a scam and respond accordingly. Always act promptly to resolve any issues with the IRS to avoid unnecessary penalties or payments. If you have any questions, call the IRS or reach out to a tax relief professional.

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Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Tom Rains graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 with a master’s degree in Professional Writing. Tom’s passion for delivering quality content fuels him to provide consumers with accurate, well-researched information on major life purchases.