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Personal Finance Tax Relief

How to Negotiate an Offer in Compromise With the IRS

Updated Oct 13, 2023   |   6-min read

If you owe a significant amount in back taxes and can’t pay back the full amount, making the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) an Offer in Compromise might be your best path forward. With an Offer in Compromise, you can settle your tax debt with less than you owe (sometimes much less).

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What is an Offer in Compromise?

An Offer in Compromise is a way of settling a tax debt owed to the IRS. You make a payment offer — usually a small fraction of what you owe — and if the IRS accepts, your tax bill is considered paid in full.

Here’s an example of how it works: Say you owe $55,000 in overdue taxes, but you can’t afford to repay it. Instead, you make the IRS an Offer in Compromise of $5,000. They accept, and you no longer owe back taxes to the government.

Making an Offer in Compromise requires a few forms and some documentation, and there’s also a $205 application fee. If the IRS accepts, you may be able to make monthly payments to pay off your offer.

Who qualifies for an Offer in Compromise?

To qualify, a taxpayer must be unable to repay their full tax liability or prove that repaying the total tax bill would cause financial hardship.

There are no hard and fast requirements for Offers in Compromise; however, you can’t apply if you’re in bankruptcy proceedings. When evaluating an offer, the IRS will look at several factors, including your future income, debts, assets, and overall ability to repay the tax debt.

If you’re considering making an Offer in Compromise, use the IRS’ pre-qualifying tool. Because offers require a $205 application fee, it’s important to know you qualify before moving forward with your application. In 2019, about a third of Offers in Compromise were accepted.

How can I get an Offer in Compromise?

To make an Offer in Compromise, you’ll need to submit a few forms, provide documentation of your income, and pay your application fee. You also may need to make an initial payment, depending on which payment plan you choose.

The application process

The first step to making an Offer in Compromise is to make sure you’re current on your tax return filings. If you’re not, you’ll need to file any missing returns before moving forward with your application.

Once those are on file, you’ll need to:

  • Fill out IRS Forms. IRS Form 656 and IRS Form 433-A (for individuals) or Form 433-B (for businesses)
  • Pay the $205 application fee. If you meet the IRS’ Low-income Certification Guidelines, this fee is waived.
  • Include your initial offer payment. This payment must be at least 20% of your offer. If your offer is accepted, you can choose to pay the remaining balance all at once or via monthly payments.

The full directions for submitting an Offer in Compromise are listed in the IRS’ booklet.

How much should you offer?

You want to get by with as low a payment as possible, but remember: About two-thirds of Offers in Compromise were rejected last year. If you want to ensure yours isn’t turned down as well, you’ll need to carefully calculate how much to offer as payment.

To do this, you’ll need your financial details — like your income, your bank account balances, the value of any investments or assets, and any debts to your name. It would be best if you had an estimate of your monthly costs (housing, utilities, insurance, etc.), too.

You’ll enter this all into Form 656, which the IRS will then use to calculate how much you can comfortably afford to settle your debts. The formula is essentially your total projected monthly disposable income for a year, plus your total asset value. (If you have $300 per month in disposable income and a savings account with $10,000 in it, your offer should be $3,600 + $10,000 = $13,600.)

Filing alone vs. getting professional help

Anyone can file for an Offer in Compromise, but getting help from a tax relief company can ease the process — particularly if you owe a large amount of money.

If you go this route, the tax relief company will do an initial investigation into your tax issues to see whether they can help. If they can, you’ll either pay a flat fee or a portion of your total tax debt.

To determine if using a tax professional is the right move, you’ll want to consider the size of your tax debt and the costs of the service. The Tax Hardship Center charges an average of $3,750 on tax relief cases, so if you only owed $10,000, the costs may not be worth it. On larger debts, however, the potential savings are much more considerable.

Offers in Compromises are good options for taxpayers with severe tax debt. They’re also smart for those facing potential legal problems with the IRS (the agency would much rather settle than deal with a costly lawsuit).

All in all, Offers in Compromise may be wise if:

  • You’re on a fixed income or meet the low-income guidelines.
  • You’re facing potential bankruptcy.
  • You have a significant amount of tax debt that can’t be settled through other programs.
  • You don’t have much in assets to pay off the debt.

Offers in Compromise aren’t always accepted, so make sure you’ve looked at other tax resolution services as well. The IRS offers other programs to help those behind on their tax debts, including installment agreements, payment extensions, etc. You also may be able to file for Currently Not Collectible status, which puts your tax debts on hold due to your financial hardships.

What if your OIC application is rejected?

Rejections are common with OIC applications. Fortunately, if your Offer in Compromise is rejected, you can appeal the decision using IRS Form 13711. You’ll need to do this within 30 days of getting your rejection notice.

On the appeal form, you will need to note what you disagree with in the IRS’ rejection notice and your reason for the disagreement. You can also attach supporting documents to prove your point further.

Another option is to submit a new offer. You can do this with a letter detailing your new offer amount (if it’s within 30 days of rejection) or filling out a new Form 656 (if it’s after 30 days or post-appeal).

Offers in Compromise can be the right solution if you’re facing a large tax debt. They’re not always successful, though, so make sure you consider alternatives and call in a pro if you need further help.