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How I went to IRS tax jail, aka IRS withholding compliance program.

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Author: Trudy M. Howard

Have you ever gotten away with something, and found yourself doing it again? Did you keep doing it thinking that you would never get caught, or if you did get caught, you could talk your way out of it? Well that was also me when it came to going exempt on my Federal taxes.

When I was 25 I started working for a major phone company, and I was earning about $70,000 per year. $70,000 wasn’t a shabby salary for a 25 year old single mother, but when the Federal taxes were deducted, I felt as if I was paying more in taxes than I was earning. With the increase in salary I no longer qualified for the earned income tax credit, I didn’t qualify for daycare assistance programs, and I was kicked out of the welfare office when I asked for medical help or food stamps! So what was a girl to do when she felt that she needed more money to survive? Was I supposed to create a budget and stick to it? Should I have stopped dining out? Maybe I should have picked up a side business (which would have created tax planning opportunities) and supplemented my income? While all of these things sound like viable, and reasonable options, 25 year old Trudy was not reasonable, and she certainly wasn’t going to discipline herself to stick to a budget. While discussing my financial crisis (don’t judge me) with a friend, she told me about a “magical thing” called “going exempt from Federal income tax.”
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In order to stop the government from taking $300 and $400 out of my paychecks, “all I had to do (which is the opening statement for all bad ideas)” was write exempt on my W4, hand the form to my employer, and magically, all of the deductions would stop. The first time that I went exempt I was afraid. Was the IRS going to come after me? Was my job going to fire me for not paying taxes? Would I owe the IRS a gazillion dollars? To my surprise (and eventual demise) none of these things happened. In fact, nothing happened, life continued on, and I was happy as jay bird; that is until tax time arrived.

In June of 2002 I received my first IRS tax bill (notice CP51A). I ignored it. More letters came; I ignored them. Certified letters came; I refused to pick them up. The only letter that caught my attention was the CP504 intent to levy, and it only caught my attention because it mentioned the word assets. Me being me, I waited until the last minute to contact the IRS, and after my bank account was levied, I finally understood that when the IRS sends letters, it’s best to call them immediately. One would think that the levy would have changed my ways, but nope! All the levy did was teach me to get tax debt help, and work out a payment plan with the IRS.

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After resolving my tax debt issues, I began the crazy cycle of racking up tax debt, and asking for an installment plan. 10 years into this cycle I finally reached the mother of all IRS agents, and she told me “be careful, because an IRS agents can see that you keep racking up debt, and that you don’t have enough withholding. When you don’t have enough withholdings, the IRS can force you to increase your withholding.” My internal response was “girl bye… I’ve been doing this for years, run the payment plan and shut up” but my external response was “Really they can do that? I always figured that I would settle up with the IRS at the end of the year. I’ll do better this year, I promise.” Little did I know the gig was up, and I was on my way to IRS tax jail.

Merriam Webster defines prison as: “a state of confinement or captivity, or  a place of confinement especially for lawbreakers.” While IRS tax jail is not a physical jail with walls, those that have been placed into the IRS withholding compliance program can tell you that it certainly feels like jail! Once the taxpayer becomes a lawbreaker (by not paying their taxes as they go), they are eventually placed into the IRS withholding compliance program (aka IRS tax jail), and held captive for a minimum of 3 years. During this 3 year period the IRS states that: “your employer must withhold income tax from your wages as if you’re single with zero allowances.”

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To illustrate, in 2019, if a person is earning $70,000 (and there were thrown into IRS tax jail aka withholding compliance program), they would have $400.87 withheld from each paycheck to cover their Federal income taxes. In addition to the Federal tax deduction, every paycheck would also have deductions for Social Security ($166.92), Medicare ($39.04), and state taxes ( I live in Illinois, and in IL the tax would be $133.27. After taxes, the taxpayer would be left with a net pay of $1,952.21, not including deductions for health insurance, dental, vision, life insurance, disability, union dues, and so on. So if the IRS tax jail isn’t physical, how is one cast into IRS tax jail? The IRS sends tax payers to IRS tax Jail by sending letter 2800C to the taxpayers employer. 

Once your employer receives letter 2800C per “within 60 days the employer must “begin withholding income tax from this employee’s wages based on a withholding rate (or marital status) single, and withholding allowances of 0.” No amount of pleading, threatening, or arguing with your employer will change this. If you switch employers, the IRS will find you. The only thing that you can do is contact the IRS yourself (for the DIY crowd), or you can work with a professional tax debt resolution firm to negotiate with the IRS on your behalf.. Depending on your number of dependents, and marital status, the IRS may show you some mercy. There is always the option of doing nothing, and if you choose to do nothing, you can expect your lock in rate to begin within 60 days, and you will remain in IRS tax jail for a minimum of 3 years.

As with every good story, there is always a silver lining. If during your 3 year bid, you remain a good little taxpayer (by paying your taxes & staying in tax compliance) the warden can release you from IRS tax jail. 

Although we’ve given you the basics, this is not an all-inclusive article. Should you have tax debt help questions, need Chicago business tax preparation, business entity creation, business insurance, or business compliance assistance please contact us online, or call our office toll free at 1-855-743-5765 or locally in Chicago or Indiana at 1-708-529-6604. Make sure to join our newsletter for more tips on reducing taxes, and increasing your wealth.


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