“Fresh Start” Changes to the Offer in Compromise Program

The airwaves are inundated with television and radio ads promising delinquent taxpayers an easy solution to their tax problems: the Offer in Compromise. What these ads fail to disclose is that this program has rigorous guidelines for calculating a proper offer amount, and that in recent years, few offers have been accepted by the Internal Revenue Service. Often, taxpayers believe these slick sales pitches and find themselves no closer to a real resolution after hiring an “offer mill” that does not do the proper analysis to determine a correct offer proposal. 

Despite the misleading advertisements of offer mills, the Offer in Compromise is a valid program. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service has made changes to the financial analysis required by the program to make it easier for taxpayers to participate in the program and settle their outstanding tax debt. These changes include: 

Reducing the calculation for taxpayers’ future income

Previously, the IRS would look at 48 months of future income potential for lump sum offers and 60 months of future income for short-term deferred offers. The “Fresh Start” changes have reduced these timeframes to 12 months and 24 months, respectively. The bottom line is that the calculation of an offer has been reduced substantially. For example, a taxpayer with a monthly “ability to pay” of $500 previously would have this amount multiplied by 48 months as part of a lump sum calculation, totaling $24,000. Now, the same $500 ability to pay is multiplied by 12 for the same offer, totaling $6,000. In this example, this change reduces the required offer amount by $18,000—a substantial difference! 

Allowing taxpayers to repay their student loans 

One of the most common misconceptions taxpayers may have about the Offer in Compromise program is that the Internal Revenue Service will consider all of a taxpayer’s current expenses. This is simply not true. The IRS only considers necessary and allowable living expenses in the calculation of an offer. Often, this results in the IRS having a very different view of what a taxpayer can afford in the context of an offer! By allowing taxpayers to repay their student loans, the IRS is making a concession that student loans may be necessary and allowable, and these payments can be considered to determine a taxpayer’s future ability to pay. 

Allowing taxpayers to pay state and local delinquent taxes 

Frequently, when a taxpayer is unable to pay their federal taxes, they are also unable to pay their state taxes as well. Because state and local taxing entities do not halt their collection activities when a federal tax debt is present, coordinating resolutions of multiple tax debts can create unique problems for taxpayers seeking to come into compliance with all levels of government. By allowing taxpayers to pay state and local delinquent taxes when calculating an offer amount, the IRS now considers the difficulty of paying federal, state, and local taxes simultaneously. The result is that many taxpayers requesting an offer with the IRS will see a reduction to the final calculation of their offer. 

Expanding the Allowable Living Expense allowance category and amount 

Previously, the IRS did not allow for credit card payments or bank fees and charges to be allowed as living expenses in the calculation of an offer amount. Recent changes not only allow for these payments to be claimed, but also expand the “miscellaneous” category of living expenses to further account for these common expenses. 

These changes to the Offer in Compromise program will give many delinquent taxpayers new hope for resolving their tax matters in a quick and affordable manner.