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Don't Fear the Tax Man: Handling IRS Letters & Notices

Updated for Tax Year 2015


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will almost certainly send you a letter or notice when you have unpaid taxes due. But you may also receive a letter from the agency for other reasons, including:

  • To verify your identity
  • Questions about your tax return
  • Requires additional information
  • Makes changes to your return
  • Refunds an amount different from what's on your return
  • A setback in processing your return or responding to your request

The key to handling notices from the IRS is to examine them carefully first, and then follow the required instructions.

Read the Notice Carefully

Senior woman reading a letter

You must carefully read the notice in order to know why the IRS is contacting you and to understand the importance of the issue. Some IRS notices are sent via certified mail, such as the Notice of Intent to Levy, while others are mailed via regular post, like changes made to your tax return.

Read all IRS letters and notices you receive, both certified and via regular mail. Do not ignore any of them. The IRS will not send these notices by email or contact you by phone.

Don't Be Alarmed

Regardless of the reason the IRS is contacting you, it's usually not a call for alarm. If action is required on your part, the notice will state this and you'll have ample time to deal with the matter. Generally, most notices can be resolved easily.

Take the Required Action

Once you’ve carefully reviewed the letter, you'll know if any action is required on your part. Ignoring it can cause additional steps to be taken by the IRS. For example, a demand for payment notice will progress to a Notice of Intent to Levy, if you ignore it.

You can avoid this by calling the phone number shown on the demand for payment notice and make a payment or set up an installment plan with the IRS. It's important to respond within the time frame stated on the notice.

If You Agree With the Notice

You typically don’t need to respond with an explanation if you agree with the notice, though exceptions may apply. For example, if the gross income reported to the IRS by your employer does not match what you put on your return, the agency will send you a:

  • Notice CP-2000
  • Proposal to adjust your income
  • Credits or deductions

If you agree with the notice, fill out, sign and mail the response form to the IRS. The agency will make the appropriate changes to your tax account.

If You Disagree With the Notice

Respond exactly as instructed on the notice if you disagree with the IRS assessment. In this case, do not sign the CP-2000 Notice response form. Instead, on a separate document include:

  • Reason behind refuting the issue
  • Your phone number
  • Best time to be reached by the IRS

Sign the statement, attach it to the unsigned response form and mail the documents to the IRS.

Retain Copies

Keep copies of all letters and notices that you receive from the IRS as well as documents you send to the agency, in case you need to refer to the information in the future.

Scams to Look Out For

IRS letters and notices are sent to you by mail through the USPS. Do not respond to requests for personal or financial information you may receive via email or social media.

Don't give out any information to anyone who calls you demanding immediate payment for your tax bill. These callers pretend to work for the IRS and often use fake IRS identification numbers to make you think they are legitimate, when, in reality, they're scammers.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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