IRS Certified Letter: What to Do Now

If you receive IRS certified mail, you need to take immediate action. IRS certified letters almost always mean that something serious is about to happen and you don’t have much time to respond.

This post is provided for general information only. Please confirm the details and circumstances of your unique situation with your tax accountant or other appropriate advisor before taking action.

When does the IRS send certified letters?

The IRS sends certified mail in the following types of situations:

  • You owe money and haven’t responded to previous IRS letters
  • You’re facing a federal tax lien
  • The IRS is auditing your tax return

It’s important to understand that IRS certified mail is almost never the first IRS notice you receive. Most mail from the IRS comes in regular mail.

IRS certified mail is often a final notice. You may have a limited amount of time to contact a tax professional or respond to the IRS on your own.

What happens if you ignore certified IRS letters?

Ignoring IRS certified mail is not an easy way to get out of taxes owed, a federal tax lien, or other consequences. Under the tax law, the IRS often just needs to show that they made reasonable efforts to contact you.

If you ignore IRS certified letters or regular mail, the IRS can still say they did what they could to notify you. Even without your signature on electronic delivery tracking, the IRS will still have a mailing receipt showing they sent the letter to your address.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you move, you’re required to change your address with the IRS. The fact that a letter from the IRS went to your old address also can’t usually get you out of tax trouble.

While you’ll want to ask your tax professional if the IRS followed your collection due process rights, simply ignoring the IRS will rarely work in your favor. It often just means the IRS can take the next steps without hearing any possible defenses you may have.

What should you do if you receive IRS certified mail?

If you receive a certified letter from the IRS, consider taking the following steps.

Note the deadline on your IRS letter.

Almost every letter from the IRS has a deadline to respond. Depending on the issue, it might be the deadline to pay, make payment arrangements, send additional information, or take some other action.

One of the most important things to understand is that if you want to get help from a tax professional, you need to contact one well before the deadline. Contacting a tax professional doesn’t count as contacting the IRS and doesn’t meet your deadline. Tax professionals will need several days or weeks to prepare your response and send it by the IRS deadline.

Understand the subject of the letter.

Not all IRS certified mail is the same. Some certified IRS letters ask you to do something. Others tell you that the IRS is going to do something.

For example, if you get a final notice to pay, it might be past the deadline to argue against the changes to your tax return that made you owe tax. If your notice says, “send us more information or we might charge you additional tax,” then you’ll want to gather as much information as possible to prove why the IRS is wrong.

If you get a levy letter or some other letter that tells you the IRS is going to do something and doesn’t ask you to take action, you may still have options. For example, you can often avoid federal and state liens by making payment arrangements.

Determine if you’re comfortable responding to the IRS.

Next, you’ll need to decide if you’re comfortable responding to IRS certified mail on your own or want to get help from a tax attorney or accountant. It may depend on how complicated the situation is or how big the possible consequences are.

For example, say you got a certified letter saying you owe $1,000 in federal taxes. You had a tax preparer do your taxes, you’re confident in their work, you know you owe the IRS money, and you just never sent a payment. You’ll probably just want to pay or get on a payment plan.

Now let’s say you owe $50,000 that you can’t pay based on the tax return you filed and you’re confident your tax preparation service didn’t make a mistake. Tax pros can help you understand your options for handling larger tax debts and potentially reducing the penalties and interest you have to pay.

If you get an audit letter over something easy like providing your business receipts for a relatively small deduction, you might want to handle that on your own. If your audit letter is about complicated tax issues that will require you to argue tax law, you might want to use a CPA or tax attorney.

Send your response.

The final step is to send your response to the IRS office by fax or mail. If you’re working with a tax professional, they’ll give you forms to sign.

If you’re paying in full, you can pay on the IRS website or mail a check. If you’re using a payment plan, you may want to call the IRS or ask your tax professional to make sure the IRS is stopping collection action.

If you’re arguing that the IRS shouldn’t change your tax return or shouldn’t charge you as much, check out these tips for sending a written explanation to the IRS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about certified mail from the IRS.

Where do I send my IRS certified mail?

Use the mailing address or fax number on your notice or letter. Don’t look up an address or fax number online.

The IRS has many addresses and fax numbers for different reasons. If you send your response to the wrong place, the IRS may not process it.

Is certified mail from the IRS always bad?

Certified mail from the IRS is usually bad news. Most of the time, it’s an audit or notice that you owe money.

In some cases, the IRS may use certified mail if they need to confirm your identity or send a tax refund.

You’ll never know why the IRS mailed a letter until you open it. Keep in mind that whether it’s good news or bad news, ignoring it is rarely a good option.

Why did I get IRS certified mail about my stimulus check?

The IRS has been having a lot of problems verifying who should have received a stimulus check. Some people requested the stimulus payment on their tax return even though they already got the check and weren’t eligible. Some people never got their stimulus check but the IRS thinks they did.

The most reliable way to find out what happened is to talk to an IRS representative by phone. But since millions of people are having this problem, it’s next to impossible to get through.

Can you track IRS certified mail?

You can’t track a certified letter the IRS sends you. They keep the tracking number for their own internal purposes.

If you want to receive notices of mail you’re going to receive in general, you can sign up for Informed Delivery through the postal service.

If you send a certified letter to the IRS, keep the mailing receipt. You can enter the tracking number on the USPS website to see when the IRS received your letter.

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