Not scorpions, not reptiles, not hairy poisonous spiders, not jackals, not piranhas, not hyenas.
And while some taxpayers may swear that the IRS agent they talked to was worse than the mythical Leroy Brown (that is, “meaner than a junkyard dog” and who was “bad, Bad!”
fourteen years before Michael Jackson was “Bad”), experience suggests (and were a study conducted, empirical evidence, I believe, would support) that the people who work for the IRS are human, all too human.
The significance of this to a taxpayer in a jam is that if some IRS (or corresponding state taxing authority) staffer has been trying for months or years to collect a back tax debt, or just get the taxpayer to file one or more missing returns*, that salaried government employee just might develop an all-too-human negative impression of the taxpayer.
(*If you find a tax advisor who says you don’t have to file a return, hang on to your wallet, and run, don’t walk, to someone else!)
The Taxman’s Human? What’s the Downside?
Even if the taxpayer has one or one-hundred-and-one unassailable reasons to explain how it is that he or she wound up in this situation with IRS agents giving chase, and it all makes sense, the all-too-human IRS employee might form a decidedly negative impression which can affect how that employee might treat the taxpayer.
The IRS agent might become convinced that the taxpayer is trying to pull a fast one of some sort, or is lying, or cheating, or some combination of these or other bad things, and so treat the taxpayer based on these underlying impressions.
This has happened: for example, over the telephone one sunny afternoon, a New York State Department of Tax staffer snarled at me something like “Ms. Smith [the taxpayer] has had the unauthorized use of $40,000 of New York State’s money for the past five years, and I’m going to come get it.”
This Tax Department agent was ready to start freezing and seizing bank accounts, garnishing wages, using the Tax Department’s enormous power to reach in and grab whatever he could find, wherever he could find it. And, man, was he angry; angry at the taxpayer.
A powerful and common impression is that the IRS and, often-times even worse, the state taxing authorities, have auditors, collectors, and other staff who are all Terminator-like in their robotic, inexhaustible relentlessness, toughness, and harshness.
Ah Taxman! Ah Humanity!
Yet the humanity, fallibility, and frailty of those seemingly Terminator-like IRS employees are often contributing factors to their relentlessness and toughness.
This is one reason (there are several) to have a professional representative handle the case and speak to the IRS for the taxpayer, rather than have do it himself, or herself.
The old saying, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” may apply here, to taxpayers who decide to represent themselves, on those difficult occasions when they get tangled up with the IRS.
Another example: an IRS agent complained to me about another taxpayer, saying that she, the IRS agent, did not “like” the taxpayer.
More than “not liking” the taxpayer, the IRS agent said she thought the taxpayer “cheats,” or, if not “cheating,” then something must be very wrong with the taxpayer’s business or her record keeping, or both.
This statement of deep distrust, suspicion, frustration and indeed, anger, was made to me, the taxpayer’s lawyer, at a meeting where the taxpayer was not present.
Despite these powerfully negative impressions of the taxpayer, this IRS agent ultimately reduced the taxpayer’s tax bill. She reduced the tax bill because evidence I presented which the taxpayer gave me, strongly supported the reduction.
Plus, because the taxpayer herself wasn’t present at this conference, she was not there to remind this all-to-human IRS staffer how much the IRS staffer had grown to distrust and resent the taxpayer.
Instead, with the taxpayer represented by counsel, the IRS staffer was more able to focus on the evidence supporting the taxpayer’s case rather than getting caught up in the all-too-human emotions of anger, distrust, resentment and frustration.
Every time this IRS agent did stray from the issues, though, and started thinking about the taxpayer, the agent just saw red – and one thing you generally don’t want is to wave the equivalent of a red cape when the IRS is snarling angry-bull-style, in an all-too-human bull-snarl (do bulls snarl?).
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