The IRS reactivated a program previously instituted where private debt collectors are used to collect upon unpaid taxes owed by individuals with delinquent tax debts. This IRS Private Debt Collection (PDC) program, however, has been identified as a serious problem, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate.
According to a recent report, taxpayers who had debts assigned recently from the IRS to these private debt collection agencies ended up entering into repayment agreements they simply could not afford. Approximately 43 percent of them were earning income well below their allowable living expenses.
The PDC program also ends up costing the U.S. Treasury Department more than it is worth. In fact, experts criticize these programs as the private collection companies are allowed to keep 25 percent of what they end up collecting, which means the programs cost the Treasury more than the money that comes in after all is said and done.
This brings the question to many taxpayers of how they know whether they are likely to be contacted by a PDC. The taxpayers who are normally chosen are those who have IRS debts that are considered by the IRS as an inactive tax receivable. A tax debt is declared “inactive” after the IRS removes it from the active case list due to either lack of resources or the inability to find the individual. If more than a year has passed since the taxpayer had any communication with the IRS for the collection of the over-due tax, the debt will be considered “inactive,” as well.
When a PDC contacts a debtor, they will normally request full payment of the debt from the taxpayer first. If the taxpayer is not able to make full payment immediately, the private collection agency will then offer the person an installment agreement. However, many times, the installment agreements that are offered and later accepted by the taxpayer end up being more than that person can handle.
What Agencies Have IRS Authorization?
Currently, four PDC agencies have been selected by the IRS to operate the private debt collection program. Only these four firms should be contacting taxpayers, and they include:
- CBE Group in Cedar Falls, Iowa;
- Conserve in Fairport, New York;
- Performant in Livermore, California; and
- Pioneer in Horseheads, New York.
Phone scams have been on the rise after individuals have reported being contacted via phone by a person who claims to be affiliated with the IRS and receiving demands for immediate payment. The IRS will not call taxpayers to collect on a debt. Rather, any demand for payment from the IRS will be by a letter on official IRS letterhead, called a Notice CP40. The letter will tell the taxpayer that the tax debt has been assigned to a PDC. The PDC will then confirm in a separate letter that the tax case has been assigned to them. In both of these letters, the taxpayer should see a 10-digit identifier number in place of the taxpayer’s Social Security number. The purpose of this number is to allow for two-party authentication between the taxpayer and the PDC.
Other Red Flags
The IRS has also provided other red flags taxpayers should be aware of when receiving any questionable communication from someone claiming to be from the IRS. These red flags include the following:
- PDCs will not ask the taxpayer to pay them for any fees or owed taxes, and they will not accept payments from the taxpayer. Rather, these companies will inform the taxpayer that any payments for these tax debts should be paid by check directly to the IRS or paid online through the IRS website.
- If a payment is made by check, it should be written payable to the “United States Treasury.” The IRS nor the PDC will take payment in the form of a gift card, prepaid debit card or iTunes gift cards. Scammers have been known to regularly request payment in these forms.
- If a taxpayer is contacted by a tax collector, the taxpayer should call the IRS to confirm first that the debt has been assigned to a PDC before working with that company.
- The PDC cannot enforce collection actions against the taxpayer, including issuing a levy or filing a notice of federal tax lien. Instead, they must follow all IRS rules per the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Tax Debts That Cannot Be Assigned
Lastly, the IRS cannot legally assign a tax debt to a PDC in cases where the taxpayer is deceased; the person is under the age of 18-years-old, or to a person in the military who is in a designated combat zone. If someone is the victim of tax-related identity theft, is classified as an innocent spouse and is currently involved in an exam, installment agreement or offer in compromise, he or she is exempt.
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