IRS Certified Mail – Understanding Your Letter And Responding

IRS Certified Mail Letters – Reasons and Responses

Under certain conditions, the IRS will send letters through the post office via certified mail. A specific set of circumstances will require the IRS to notify you of an action or event through certified mail. Then based on the date of the letter, you will have a certain amount of time to respond. The IRS is required by regulations and policy to officially notify you of these circumstances.

Certified mail has some extra steps taken beyond regular mailing:

  • Delivery receipt – for tracking
  • Signature tracking – verifying that you got it
  • Electronic delivery tracking – to find out what happened if it got lost

Be advised: The IRS only needs to send the notice to your last known address. It’s up to you to keep your address up to date by filing returns or filing a change of address with the IRS. As a general rule, the clock starts ticking the date of the certified letter from the IRS, so you want to take action as soon as possible.

Now let’s go over some of the cases where you might be the recipient of IRS-certified mail. Watch the video for a summary or keep reading on for a more in-depth analysis.

IRS Certified Mail Letters - Understanding Them And Appropriate Responses

[#1] Outstanding Balance / Amount Due (CP504)

CP504 notice

Pretty self-explanatory: You owe them money. The certified notice will only happen after they have sent you ordinary “balance due” notices. The arrival of the certified cp504 letter signals a further warning before they begin to take more proactive steps in recovering the balance.

How to Respond to Outstanding Balance Letters:

Think about how you are going to resolve the taxes owed. You might be able to pay the balance all at once and if so that’s often the easiest solution followed up by a First Time Penalty abatement.

Offer in Compromise, Currently Not Collectible Status and bankruptcy are other options. Not all taxes qualify for bankruptcy and if you only owe tax debt, Offer In Compromise is almost always the better option. See our Offer In Compromise vs bankruptcy comparison for more information.

Bottom line: The purpose of the CP504 is to notify you that your case is getting closer to collection activity.

[#2] Final Notice of Intent to Levy (CP90)

CP90 notice

A CP90 Final Notice of Intent to Levy letter is an IRS certified mail letter letting you know the IRS will try to levy or garnish you 30 days from the date of the letter.

A levy is an attempt at a forcible collection of debt through legal means – garnishing a paycheck, filing a lien on the property, seizure of property, confiscating a bank balance, or whatnot.

How to Respond to a Final Notice of Intent to Levy:

Set up arrangements with the IRS to deal with the issue, or hire someone to act as your intermediary, such as a tax attorney. The resolutions you would seek are the same as those above listed for #1, the CP504 notice. You are just now further along in the collections process and it’s time to take action quickly.

If you are mailing in an Offer In Compromise and have received a CP90, it’s strongly recommended to call the IRS collections number listed on your letter, often it’s (800) 829-7650, or the Revenue Officer assigned to your case if there is one.

Let them know you are submitting an Offer and ask for a hold on collection activity to ensure levies and garnishments do not go out while you are waiting for your Offer to get into processing status.

Bottom line: Start getting your case resolved or collection attempts are coming soon.

[#3] Underreporter Inquiry (CP 2000)

CP2000 notice

The IRS will send a CP2000 notice when there is a discrepancy between the information they have on file and the information you reported on your tax return. This may be pertaining to any number of issues; perhaps you forgot to include a 1099 or W2, filed mistaken information about dependents or failed to report income from capital gains. There may even be an error on the part of a third party or a glitch in the IRS computer system. Identity fraud where somebody interacted with the IRS while pretending to be you can also be the cause.

Sometimes there’s an easy fix, and sometimes you have a mess to straighten out.

How to Respond to a CP2000 Letter:

If it’s a simple fix that you can easily handle, you can submit your response directly, but be sure to send it USPS certified mail with a return receipt so you know they got it and keep a copy.

In other cases, you may want someone else to handle it for you.

Bottom line: You can see a CP2000 as a “mini audit.”

[#4] Notice of Deficiency (CP3219N)

CP3219N notice

After a matter which has been addressed by a CP2000, or after an audit, if there is a balance due they will send you a Notice of Deficiency. From the date of the letter, you have 90 days (or 150 days if you live outside the US) to file for US Tax Court to dispute it.

How to Respond to a Notice of Deficiency:

If you agree with the IRS’ claim and you owe money, you can either pay it off or find out your tax relief options.

If you think the IRS is wrong, you can file a petition for US Tax Court. Surprisingly, the Tax Court process is not super complex for many smaller cases and is more like a small claims court. If you do mail in a petition, make sure to send it USPS certified mail with a return receipt.

Bottom line: A Notice of Deficiency is a letter stating the IRS determines you owe money due to a CP2000 or audit and it sets the time deadline for you to petition the US Tax Court.

[#5] Notice of Filing Federal Tax Lien (Form 668Y)

IRS Form 668(Y)

This is just as ugly as it sounds! A federal tax lien is filed in a variety of cases where the IRS is attempting to collect a balance due and is putting a lien on your property as insurance.

The lien is a public legal notice to alert creditors that the government has a legal right to your property. The property may be real estate, a vehicle registered to you, or really any asset you own.

Liens come into effect in different ways depending upon how much you owe:

  • Under $25K – As long as you set up a streamlined payment plan, no lien will be filed and liens that were filed will get released if you pay by direct debit, after a few payments
  • Between $25K and $50K – If you set up a payment plan before the IRS files a lien and pay your debt off within a specified time period, the IRS will not file a tax lien
  • Over $50K and up – The IRS will usually file a lien as an insurance policy against very high balances, even if you are agreeing to pay

As of 2018, credit reporting agencies do not put Federal Tax Liens on credit reports, but they will show up on any property you own.

How to Respond to a Federal Tax Lien:

If you owe less than $25,000 and enter into a “streamline installment agreement” the liens will get released after a few months of payments. If you have paid your debt in full, the IRS has 30 days to release the lien.

You can also prevent the filing of a Federal Tax Lien on debts under $50,000 by entering into a payment plan that complies with the IRS Fresh Start Initiative.

Getting an Offer In Compromise accepted and meeting the terms of the Offer will also get the liens released. If you get your case into Currently Not Collectible status the liens stay until your debt expires.

Expiration of the tax debt will also release the tax liens.

For most scenarios, once it is resolved, you can file for an IRS lien withdrawal which makes it disappear from the record.

Bottom line: A federal tax lien is like the IRS calling “dibs” on your property as a creditor.

[#6] Tax Return Questions

In some specific cases, the IRS will have a query where they feel the need to send it through certified mail channels, but this does not apply every time. The query might pertain to a missing form, undisclosed income source, and so on. It’s just a quick question about your tax return. These may happen regardless of whether you owe the IRS or are expecting a refund.

How to Respond to Tax Return Queries:

The IRS may send the form you need to fill out as a response. If you are unfamiliar with the form and had someone file it for you, you may want to discuss this with your tax preparer. You can also schedule a call with our tax preparer by selecting tax preparation.

A lot of these questions will be easy and straightforward, but if they are not and you did the taxes yourself, you may want to get a competent tax professional to respond for you.

Bottom line: Sometimes the IRS is just asking questions about your tax return.

[#7] Innocent Spouse Relief Determination

After the IRS comes up with the results of an Innocent Spouse Relief request, they will send you an Innocent Spouse Relief Determination by certified mail, where they let you know the results of the claim. That response may be a full approval, partial approval, or denial.

If you disagree, you can file a US Tax court petition.

How to Respond to an Innocent Spouse Relief Determination:

You can dispute the determination by filing a petition with the US Tax Court.  Make sure to send it by certified mail with a return receipt. The Tax Court process is not too different from a small claims court when it comes to smaller balance cases.

Bottom line: The Innocent Spouse Relief Determination is simply the IRS’ response to innocent spouse claim.

[#8] Processing Delay on Refund (CP44 Notice)

CP44 notice

A CP44 letter gets sent when the IRS is delaying the processing of your tax refund because they think you might owe other tax debts. They are doing an inquiry into your information and they will get back to you with a determination. You will get a subsequent response, typically stating they are going to issue you a refund or apply your tax refund to other past due tax balances. Similar to a CP2000, a CP44 is like a “mini audit” without being an audit.

How to Respond to a CP44 letter:

Your response to the CP44 letter will be based on the outcome of the IRS inquiry. If it’s favorable you probably do not need to do anything. If you do not agree, you can dispute their changes. And if you are not sure what to do, you may want to contact a tax law firm for help.

Bottom line: A CP44 only occurs when you claim a refund. And the IRS has reason to believe that the refund might be in error. This triggers an inquiry and investigation of the filing.

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