This is part 3 of our discussion of IRS collections with our guest David Ronquillo. Part 1. Part 2.
Greetings, this is Kelly Coughlin, CPA, and CEO of EveryDay CPA providing tax accounting and revenue solutions to individuals and businesses throughout the U.S. In today’s podcast I am going to interview a former grizzly bear. Yep! In a former life, for 30 years, he was a grizzly bear who took the shape of an IRS Collections Officer, seizing assets and pursuing DOJ tax lien foreclosures.
David Ronquillo began his career as a revenue officer in 1980 in Seattle. He has held positions as Field Collection Group Manager and Senior Collection Policy Analyst. Currently, he is helping tax professionals increase their knowledge and skills representing clients who are dealing with the IRS Collections operations. David, I want to welcome you to the EveryDay CPA Podcast.
Kelly: I have a couple more questions on the kind of behind-the-scenes dynamics of the IRS collections area, one is, what are some of the motivators or behind the scenes incentives that influence an agent that works on these cases, that work in favor of the taxpayer, and certainly which ones don’t work in favor of the taxpayer? I am thinking, you know, there is a pressure to close the case to get it off the table, right? We have heard all that, is that a fair statement, that there is the pressure to gets things closed, right?
Kelly: Does that pressure help the taxpayer or hurt the taxpayer or is a neutral?
David: It can depend, and I can see it go both ways, for example, if it’s an egregious case, you know, the way that they ran the tax up, you know, a trust fund recovery penalty is a classic example. IRS may spend more time on it digging for assets or digging for a way to collect what is owed, simply because of the way the tax was generated or how cooperative – did they do what the revenue officer asks them to do or are they going out to try to refinance their house? So, in those instances the case may be directly classified as a case that’s over age. It used to be nine months. If the case was older than nine months in the inventory it was over age so then management starts looking at it a lot closer trying to figure out, what do we need to do to close this case? But if it’s a good enough case where it should not be closed, the IRS is not going to close it. On the other hand, if it’s a simple payment agreement, taxpayers can come in, they can make monthly payments, case is getting old, hey, let’s get the payment agreement written up and let’s get it closed. Let’s move on to something else. So, the pressure on closing the case can work both ways, it just depends on what your circumstances are. In dealing with the revenue officer, I always make the choice, because I hear these advertisements on the radio, oh, yeah, we do battle with the IRS, we fight the IRS, this and that. I don’t fight the IRS because it’s not effective. When people would fight me or fight my revenue officers, it was never effective because I used to tell taxpayers when I was a revenue officer, you don’t want to cooperate, fine, I will clear my desk and I will just have your case on my desk and I will spend all my time on it trying to figure out how I am going to collect from you, okay? So, because you are having an interaction with another individual, another human being, and people like to be treated well, like to be treated nice, the revenue officer is the same way, they go home from work to a family, to a family dog, they are regular people. So, I always advocate, try to solve the case for the revenue officer. If you know what the rules are, the procedures are, what the internal revenue manual calls for with the case within those parameters. If they owe tax you know that the revenue officer is going to want a 433-A, a financial statement or if it’s a business 433-B, you know what the standards are, don’t ask the revenue officer to grant $5,000 expense for mortgage and utilities when the standard for the area is like 2,000 bucks. So, work to resolve the case for the revenue officer, that way they don’t have to spend as much time of concentration on your case. Be cooperative, you have got a deadline, try to meet the deadline. If you can’t meet the deadline, at least call the revenue officer ahead of time and say I can’t meet the deadline and this is why, and generally they will extend the deadline. Don’t argue with them over issues that are not important, okay? In my example, the mortgage and utilities are $5,000, the standard is $2,000, why are you arguing with them over that? You probably won’t get it. I mean, you can put a little bit, but why, “Here’s all the utility bills and this is why.” But I would much rather spend my time arguing with the revenue officer over something that they did wrong rather than something that I know my chances of winning are slim to none.
Kelly: You keep referring to the revenue officer, what’s the hierarchy of IRS case management, the point of contact, taxpayer? And, parenthetically, I am going to assume that you recommend in most cases that a taxpayer get help from a professional that knows how to navigate these areas, is that a fair statement?
David: Yeah, It is. It depends on the case. It depends on how much the taxpayer owes. If the taxpayer owes $5,000 and they can pay $500 a month then I would just tell them, hey, call the IRS or send in a letter to IRS collections saying that you want to make a monthly payment agreement. If they owe $50,000 or $150,000 then that’s a lot different, and then it depends on what they have. Taxpayers, from what I have seen, they don’t want to spend their time trying to deal with IRS Collections. They don’t know how the IRS works; they don’t know how the IRS thinks; they don’t know the IRS language and they don’t know what the IRS can do to them. And I have had taxpayers come to me after they have dealt with the IRS, and generally, they have a deadline put on them and now they want me to fix the problem. And that’s like, well, you’ve got a deadline from the IRS which is in three days and you expect me to do all this work for you, and if the work is not done, financial statement is not submitted, they are going to lobby. I can’t guarantee you that I can do this. My recommendation to taxpayers is, do not contact the IRS. Generally, if you owe enough money and you don’t feel confident in dealing with IRS collections, contact a professional that knows what they are doing, knows how to deal with IRS collections, because you’ll probably sleep a lot better at nights rather than you trying to deal with the IRS.
Kelly: And if you are a tax professional and you don’t know how to navigate through this side of the IRS area, the collection area, then that’s your focus now in your business enterprise, correct? You are helping tax professionals navigate through these waters?
David: Yes. I am going to stop representing taxpayers, simply, because I have done it for close to 40 years. And what I would rather do now is just simply act as a consultant to tax professionals. If they have questions, I’ll help them develop strategies in particular cases. You know, I attended the National Association of Enrolled Agents conference at Las Vegas every year and those are good conferences but what I see happening is that you have folks coming in and they kind of learn representation to add it on to their practice, which is good, but you sit there in a seminar for an hour to an hour and a half to two hours, for example, on filling out a financial statement, 433-A, that’s really, in my opinion, not enough, because there are implications to what you put down on that 433-A. Anybody can fill it out because you are just putting down numbers. So, if you write down for real estate, three bedrooms, two bath resident, that its fair market value is $500,000, and the mortgage against it is $100,000, for equity of $400,000, you have to know how IRS collections is going to look at that $400,000, especially a revenue officer. You just can’t submit that 433-A and say to a revenue officer, here it is, and have yourself wide open or no prepare your client. The revenue officer is going to ask you to go borrow, so let’s get started right now.
Kelly: Right, right.
David: So, the seminars are good but until you really get out and start working cases, Offers in Compromises is another one, the Acceptance Rates on Offers in Compromise is just under 50 percent. I don’t submit a lot of offers but everyone, I’ve probably submitted maybe about 10, 15, at the most, everyone has been accepted except for one, and that is because she went and got a job, that increased her income which kind of blew the offer up. You know, you have to be really, really careful on what you are doing so that you can achieve success for your clients. So, my plans now going into the future is, do consulting work. People want to call me up, this is what I have got, this is the type of case, I can kind of walk them through it, and try this, this and this, and if that doesn’t work, you know what, let’s try this. And just, you know, basically be a coach is what I want to do.
Kelly: Yeah, got it. So, back to that question, hierarchy of case management. You have got the revenue officer, the next level up from that, like his supervisor, what do you call that supervisor?
David: That is the group manager, and that group manager is going to supervise anywhere from 10 to 15 revenue officers; above that is the territory manager – that was my last position, it was a territory manager, and they are supervising anywhere, nowadays, because the personnel has shrunken, you know, five to 10 groups. And then above the territory manager is the area director and he or she is supervising…They have states, like here in Texas we are a part of the Gulf state area, that area director is in Houston. And golf state, they did some reconfiguration, but it used to be Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee, and, I think, Arkansas.
Kelly: Okay. So, back to a revenue officer, so, let’s say we have got a revenue officer that says, I want to go after retirement assets, I think earlier you said they have to go up three levels so does that mean it goes to the area director or the territory manager?
David: Goes to the group manager, the group manager forwards it to the territory manager who forwards it up to the area director.
David: Every area has what’s called a technical analyst and this person will review the case for the area director, looking at the technical aspects of the case – does it meets the requirement for whatever the revenue officer is asking for? And if the technical analyst says, yes, this is good, they will give it to the area director and then he or she will sign off on it and they’ll go and come back tomorrow and open the levy.
Kelly: That’s retirement assets and then the personal residence, same thing but it goes up one level above that, did you say?
David: Yeah, it will go up through the area director and then it goes over to a special unit called advisory, and these are senior revenue officers that will look at the case again for technical issues. Does it meets the technical, the legal and technical, does it meets the requirements for doing the seizure? The case will then move over to IRS council’s office for review. They will review it for the same thing and they will then forward it over to the Department of Justice Civil Tax Division for the DOJ to take it in to Federal District Court to get an appointment to take it to the Federal District Court.
Kelly: Okay, that’s very helpful. I have two final questions, unrelated, where you talked about OIC and some of these other tactics that are used to deal with liabilities. Let’s talk about CNC, Currently Not Collectable, once a tax liability goes into CNC classification that kind of puts everything on hold, there is no more collection activity, when does it get further attention, it won’t stay in there forever? What’s the catalyst to get it out of that, is it a tax return that gets filed and then the IRS notices, oh, this guy is making ten times the income now, is that more or less what happens?
David: That is what happens, the IRS when they see a case they will set an income threshold. It’s in the internal revenue manual on how they calculate that. What they are looking at is necessary living expenses, and they set the threshold a little bit higher than what the necessary living expenses are because they don’t want a case that is generating out just because the taxpayer went $5 over what their necessary living expenses were, but they’ll set a threshold and then when subsequently file tax return, the income will be matched up against what the threshold is. And if their income is now greater than what the threshold is the case will then be regenerated out for collection because the assumption is the taxpayer is making more money now they can start paying towards something. If the taxpayer never exceeds that threshold the case will never come out, the statute will expire and that will be the end of it.
Kelly: Alright, okay.
David: And even, I think, if the taxpayer doesn’t file tax returns it won’t be put out of CNC status but what will happen is the IRS will be asking for the tax returns which is a whole other area to go into.
Kelly: Yeah, right, right, okay. Alright, the final question is on internal collection versus external collection. A part of these ads we see on TV is, the IRS has hired a bevy of external collection agents that will really go after you, if you think your life was bad before, it really will be bad now. What are the facts on that?
David: Now, there is a big controversy over these private debt collections. The National Taxpayer Advocate is definitely opposed to it. IRS management, they tried this a number of years ago because they want to assign the low hanging fruit to cases that they cannot collect, the CNC cases to these private debt collectors. The most that they can do is make a phone call, try to locate the taxpayer and make a phone call but when it comes to actually resolving the case, say for example it’s a CNC case, private debt collector gets in touch with them and the taxpayer says, well, okay, I want to pay $100 a month, that case has to go back to IRS. IRS has to set up the payment agreement. They have no enforcement authority, basically, they are just trying to talk people into paying what they owe, track them down and pay what they owe. Internally, like we said at the beginning, the brown bear can chase them up the tree but the grizzly bear can just rip the tree out, that’s what IRS can do.
Kelly: Yeah, right. Well, that is terrific. So, your market now is to help tax professionals help other taxpayers with tax liability issues. How would you like them to get in touch with you, telephone call, email?
David: My email is david@dfwtaxhelp. That’s delta foxtrot whiskey tax help, h e l p .com. I have a website dfwtaxhelp.com, phone number is 214.997.4470.
Kelly: That’s great.
David: Yes, people have questions, you know, and I will tell you, NAEA just came out with this forum where people can post questions, and I look at that sometimes and people will post a question on collection issues, maybe something on an offer, and various people will respond. And I look at that and I think to myself, the person that is asking the question is maybe getting two or three lines of an answer. And in a lot of stuff in collection there is permutations to it, there is different nuances that can occur. You can plan to go down one path and you have to know what’s down that path that can mess things up. So, I see that forum is good for quick short answers but if you really, really want to know how to handle a specific situation you really need to talk to somebody that is familiar with the situation that can give you some good directions, to give you good ideas on strategies of what to do.
Kelly: That’s terrific. Well, David, I look forward to having you on my team to help me and my customers deal with this because I think you are a terrific resource to have and I am glad that that former grizzly bear is in my corner and are helping people. I like that.
David: I like that. I will have to tell my colleagues that I am still with the IRS. It’s terrific. Well, thank you Kelly.
Kelly: I enjoy talking to you, great. Bye.
David: Alright, bye, bye.