What does a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request have to do with your taxes? You might assume that an FOIA request is something that only happens in big court cases. However, this resource can be beneficial if you’re managing a tax issue with the IRS. Taxpayers use documents obtained through FOIA requests all the time to get a better picture of the data the IRS is using to pursue tax matters.
Let’s discuss what all taxpayers should know about using the Freedom of Information Act for obtaining IRS documents.
What Is a Freedom of Information Act Request?
The Freedom of Information Act asserts that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. Yes, document exemptions do exist, and we’ll cover the types of documents that you aren’t entitled to view in just a moment. The detail that’s important for you, if you’re dealing with a tax issue, is that all IRS records are eligible for FOIA requests. You don’t need the help of a lawyer to make an FOIA request for IRS documents, but many prefer to seek help from legal and tax professionals to ensure the process is handled correctly.
What Information Can You Request Under the FOIA?
You can make a FOIA request for any agency record. Both printed and electronic forms are available. The FOIA does not require agencies to create new records, conduct research, or perform data analysis. In addition, agencies are not required to answer any questions submitted along with requests for information – you’re only entitled to receive copies of documents that already exist without commentary.
Why would you want to submit an FOIA request when dealing with a tax issue? Many people pursue this option when they feel they are hitting a wall when communicating with the IRS. Taxpayers are often concerned that the IRS may be working off of files that contain errors. The information you dig up in your file may help you better prepare when working out a matter with the IRS. Getting documentation in your hands allows you to see the origins of the tax issue from the perspective of the IRS. You may also get access to a clearer breakdown of things like tax totals, penalties, and interest.
FOIA requests can help you to make a breakthrough if it turns out that an error or inaccuracy could be behind your tax problems. You’re essentially getting an unfiltered view of what the IRS sees when it looks at your case. This can be essential when trying to plot your next step for working toward a favorable tax resolution.
There is no initial fee to submit a request, but in some cases, charges may be added. You won’t be charged for the first two hours of search time. You will also receive up to 100 pages of duplication for free. However, some cases require additional search time and pages. You will receive written notification if the agency estimates that you will incur more than $25 in fees. You will have the option to either narrow your request to reduce fees or pay search fees. Keep in mind that agreeing to pay additional search fees does not guarantee that more information will be discovered.
You will receive a written response once your request is processed. All reasonable documents will be included in the response. You will also be informed if FOIA exemptions caused the agency to hold back specific documents.
How Can You Make a FOIA Request?
Any person can make a FOIA request – you don’t even need to be a U.S. citizen. The process varies based on the agency you are contacting, and there is a very specific process for making FOIA requests to the IRS.
All FOIA requests for the IRS must be sent in writing to the Disclosure Central Processing Unit. Written FOIA letters should be brief and direct, and there’s a specific formula to follow to ensure that your request can be processed quickly. A request letter should contain these four parts:
- A statement that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act.
- Identification of the records that are being requested.
- The name and address of the requester. Requests for tax records of any business or individual must be accompanied by a copy of the requester’s driver’s license or a sworn or notarized statement confirming identity.
- A statement of commitment to pay any fees that may be incurred during the search process.
Composing a clear, complete letter will help to ensure that the IRS accepts and processes your request promptly. This is important if you’re motivated by looming penalties and liens when attempting to settle a debt case.
The IRS is required to determine its ability to comply with your request within 20 business days. The IRS will provide reasons for denial if your request is partially or wholly denied. Additionally, you will receive information regarding your right to appeal the decision. Options for both administrative and judicial appeals exist.
What Is Exempted From the FOIA?
There are nine exemptions in place for FOIA requests. There’s a good chance you won’t bump into any of the exemptions if you’re requesting your own personal or business taxes, but it’s essential to understand the limitations of FOIA requests if you’re counting on new information to overcome tax issues.
Here are the nine FOIA exemptions:
- Classified documents pertaining to national defense and foreign policy.
- Internal personnel rules and practices.
- Information exempt under other laws.
- Trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information.
- Inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters.
- Law enforcement.
- Financial institutions.
- Geological information.
- Personnel and medical files.
Knowing your rights makes all the difference in getting the right information in front of you, and getting a tax professional who is familiar with IRS FOIA requests on your side can streamline the process. It’s recommended that you seek assistance from a tax professional if you feel that obtaining IRS documents will help you to dispute an IRS ruling or settle a case.
Do You Need Help With a Freedom of Information Request?
Do you want to find out if a FOIA request could be beneficial for solving your tax problem with the IRS? Providing help with FOIA requests is just one of the many services offered by Tax Group Center. Our team of tax professionals, lawyers, and CPAs will show you how to use information obtained through a FOIA request to support your claims. In addition, we offer a full spectrum of tax relief solutions to help you get your debt settled or forgiven. Give us a call today!