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What the IRS Has On File About You and How to Obtain Your Tax Files

By Becky Schmitz

IRS liens and levies can wreak havoc on a person's life, making it difficult to obtain financing on a home or a car and wiping out savings. Maybe you want access to your tax files to see where the problem began because you want to get it solved without ending up on the evening news. Fortunately, there is an answer for people who would like to see the type of information in their IRS files. Finding out how the IRS determines taxes, interest and penalties is possible without an extensive accounting background. The act that can help is called the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The FOIA is for people seeking to obtain government records and allows individuals or any organization to acquire information on federal agencies. The FOIA basically says that government agencies must provide requested information if they have the information unless there are particular restrictions prohibiting public release of the information. The Freedom of Information Act makes government information accessible and applies to all 15 government departments and 73 federal agencies. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is one of these agencies.

Anyone can request IRS records. Here’s how:

  • Describe the records being requested specifically. Try to give the name, subject matter, years, and location about the information in the documents.
  • Cite the Privacy Act and FOIA to get the fullest disclosure possible.
  • Say whether you want to inspect the records or have a copy of the records made without inspecting them.
  • Include your address and phone number so the IRS can respond and contact you if necessary.
  • Write “FOIA” on the envelope.
  • Mail your response to the correct IRS office, which depends on the state where you live. View the list of addresses at
What the IRS Needs to Process the Request Type of Requester

The request should state what type of requester you are so the IRS can determine any applicable fees. The categories are commercial use, media, educational institutions / non-commercial scientific institutional, and others (which include individual requesters).

Payment

The cost of a copy of a tax return as filed is $39. For all requesters, no fee is charged if the total charges are $10 or less. For individuals, there is no charge for the first 100 pages but $.20 per page after and no charge for the first 2 hours of searching but $17 per hour or fraction of an hour after. Your request must include an agreement to pay all fees generated from processing your request and can include an upper limit to the fees you are willing to pay.

Proof of Identity and Authority

If records you are requesting are confidential and not available to the general public, then you must submit proof of identity and proof of authority to access the information.

Signature The request must be in writing and signed by the person requesting the information (stamped signatures not allowed).

Here is an example of an FOIA letter to send to the IRS:

Name

Address

Phone Number

Date

Internal Revenue Service

This is a request under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act.

I am requesting a copy of the following documents:

I do not want to inspect the documents first.

I am an Other Requester, requesting this information for personal use.

As proof of my identity, I have included a photocopy of my driver’s license.

I am willing to pay fees for this request up to the amount of $_

If fees will exceed this limit, please inform me.

Thanks for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Signature

How to Get Your Request Accepted

By following the above guidelines, it is possible to view your personal IRS records. Obtaining records of a deceased person or of a business is also possible as long as the proper documentation is submitted. For records of a deceased individual, proof of status as an administrator, executor, or trustee of estate or a copy of a will or birth certificate if a beneficiary, next of kin, or heir is needed. If requesting the records of a business, provide an official document that shows you as a corporate officer, partner, sole proprietor, or shareholder.

Response times range from 0 to 921 days, with the average response time 30 days. Requests denied by the IRS are for confidential tax information from individuals not authorized to receive it or for information about tax investigations, where disclosure may impair the investigation.


Becky Schmitz is a certified tax resolution specialist and enrolled agent. Named 2006 Top Practitioner by the American Society of Tax Problem Solvers, she is the owner of Centsable Accounting, a tax problem resolution company serving Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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