IRS to simplify, or try too, taxpayer notices

If you’ve ever received a letter or notice from the IRS you know first-hand how confusing and confounding  the information presented can be.  All this while it has generally been my experience that the IRS really is not trying to confuse things with how they structure their correspondence -- quite the opposite actually. The IRS really is doing what it can wrestling with implementing wildly complex tax laws created not by their doing, but by the doing of our legislators in Washington -- while at the same time trying to be clear and concise to the taxpayer.

To this dilemma there just may be a little hope on the horizon.

The IRS recently announced it will will be sending out newly redesigned, less confusing notices to taxpayers that aim to improve the way it corresponds with its core constituency.

The nine new notices are among the first to be revised for clarity, effectiveness and efficiency. The agency also will create an office that ensures the effort to improve communications is ongoing and permanent.

“One of my priorities is to ensure that we have clear and simple communication with taxpayers,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman in a statement. “In the past, our notices often looked more like legal documents and not an effort to communicate clearly. The differences between the old and new notices are like night and day. They show the potential of our ongoing effort in this area.”

In July 2008, Shulman appointed a task group to review IRS correspondence. The group found that IRS notices have different looks and messages and do not use consistent language, creating unnecessary confusion for taxpayers.

Nine notices will feature the new design format beginning in January 2010. These notices account for approximately 2 million pieces of correspondence with individuals, businesses and exempt organizations.

The new format includes a plain-language explanation of the nature of the correspondence, clearly states what action the taxpayer must take and presents a consistent, clean design.

The new format also guides you to appropriate pages on where you can find relevant information. By reducing the potential for confusion, the IRS hopes the notices will improve your ability to get problems resolved and improve overall compliance.

All great intentions and I for one will look forward to the new formats. I do hope though, that the IRS will be able to rustle up someone other than one of us CPA or attorney types in the Service to write the letters. Now is the time for those English majors to show us all how it’s done.

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