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IRS Notices and Letters


Content provided for general information. Talk to your advisor to learn about recent updates or other rules that may apply to your situation.

Get a notice or letter in the mail from the IRS? Here’s how you can handle it. To learn more about your specific letter or notice, check the list of notices and letters at the bottom of this post.

How to Understand Your IRS Notice or Letter

  • Notices are in the format CP####. The number is located in the top right corner of the document.
  • Letters are in the format Letter ### or LTR ###. The number is located in either the top or bottom right corner of the document.

You may also be able to find additional information by looking up the code on your tax transcript.

Why is the IRS sending me a letter?

Each IRS notice has a title and should contain a summary of the problem identified. Read through the notice once to see if you understand it.

There is also an identifier in the top corner of the notice that is either “CP” followed by a number or “Letter” followed by a number. Examples: CP2000 or Letter 531. You can scroll down to see a list of IRS notices and letters or use the search function.

Hint: Most IRS letters come by regular mail. A certified IRS letter usually means a very serious issue or you didn’t respond to previous letters.

What does CP stand for in IRS notices?

CP stands for Computer Paragraph. Most CP notices are entirely or mostly automatically generated by computers that check tax returns for possible errors.

Additional Information to Look for in IRS Notices and Letters

There are a few more things to look for at the top of your notice.

  • Tax Year: This is the year in question. The IRS can go back three years in normal circumstances and sometimes longer. The year is the year the tax return covered not when it was filed. (E.g., your tax return you filed in April 2018 for calendar year 2017 is for Tax Year 2017).
  • Notice Date: This is the date the clock starts running if you have X days to respond. If you were out of town or didn’t receive the notice on time, immediately call either your tax professional or the IRS directly.
  • Social Security Number: Double check this to verify that the notice was intended for you. This is especially important if you have a family member with a similar name.

If the IRS is claiming that you owe money, it will show the tax owed, the penalty due, and the interest owed on those amounts. If you don’t pay by the due date listed, penalties and interest may keep increasing. You have the right to dispute these amounts if you disagree.

The IRS may also include a more detailed explanation of why they are claiming you owe money. This may reference specific line items on your tax return as well as W-2s, 1099s, or other documents the IRS received from third parties.

Avoiding an IRS Scam Letter

IRS notices come on official IRS letterhead and follow a standard format. The good news is that most fakes don’t successfully duplicate the appearance of a real IRS notice.

You can verify a notice by calling the IRS at the phone number listed on their website that applies to your filing type. Don’t call the number on the notice unless you confirmed on the IRS website that it actually belongs to the IRS.

The IRS always sends notices by mail not by email. The IRS will also never call you if they haven’t sent you mail first.

Can you view IRS notices or letters online?

The IRS is starting to make some notices and letters available online. If you receive a notice or letter that you can view online, the IRS will include instructions for how to access it in your online account.

If you receive a notice or letter that isn’t available online, you can try these additional sources of information.

Notices About Refunds

If you got an IRS notice saying your tax refund was delayed or adjusted, you can check the status of your refund using the IRS  Where’s My Refund? tool. This tool only shows the amount of your refund and the date you should expect it. It does not show any information about why your refund may have been adjusted.

IRS Online Account

The IRS also offers online accounts. This gives every taxpayer a place to look up their tax history just like you can look up your banking information in an online banking account.

The IRS does have identity verification measures in place. In some cases, you won’t be able to activate your online account without having a form mailed to you. This could take several weeks.

Your online account shows the following information.

  • Amount you owe. If you didn’t pay when you filed or got a notice saying you owe taxes, you can view what you owe online. The online amount may include additional interest and penalties since it’s a more up-to-date amount.
  • Payment history. You can also see a list of all of your payments. If you have a payment missing, contact the IRS to request a trace.
  • Tax transcripts or tax records. You can also see detailed information about your tax history. This includes the information you include on your tax return, third-party information like W-2s and 1099s, and adjustments to your tax return such as IRS notices.
  • Copies of some IRS notices and letters (new). This is a new featured offered by the IRS. Some, but not all, notices and letters are now available in your online account.

Does your online account always have the latest information?

Your online account doesn’t always have the latest information. The IRS actually uses several different computer systems. It often takes as long as 4-6 weeks for information to update across the IRS systems.

If you recently made a payment, it may not show up yet. If you just got an IRS notice, the adjustments may also take some time to show up in your account. In addition, many notices and letters are only proposed adjustments, so the IRS won’t make changes to your account until you’ve had time to respond.

How can you get a copy of a lost IRS notice or letter?

If you received a notice or letter that isn’t available in your online account or you can’t access your online account, you will need to call the IRS.

What should you do if the IRS sent your notice or letter to your old address?

If you found out the IRS has been trying to contact you but used your old mailing address, the first step is getting a copy of what they sent you. You can try your online account or call them.

You may have additional interest and penalties if you owe money. Interest and penalties start when your tax payment was not when you get your IRS notice or letter.

Generally, the IRS won’t waive interest or penalties because they didn’t have your current address. The IRS requires taxpayers to file Form 8822 Change of Addresswhen they move.

Many people just start using their new address the next time they file a tax return. The IRS will update your address at that time, but that could be months after you moved and possibly longer than you had mail forwarding.

Should you agree with the IRS?

If you’ve received a notice or letter from the IRS, it may have a proposed adjustment to your tax return and/or an amount of interest, taxes, and penalties the IRS is requesting that you pay. If you agree that the IRS is correct or the adjustment is so small it isn’t worth fighting, you can simply follow the instructions to pay to resolve the matter.

For example, you might have forgotten to include a 1099 and know you do owe additional tax. Or, you might decide a proposed $50 adjustment isn’t worth fighting even if you aren’t sure if the IRS is right.

If you agree that the IRS is right but you can’t afford to pay, you can explore your payment options such as a payment plan.

Advantages of Agreeing with the IRS

  • Resolve your tax problem without further back and forth with the IRS.
  • Avoid having to pay an Enrolled Agent or other tax professional to represent you.

Disadvantages of Agreeing with the IRS

  • You may end up paying money you didn’t actually owe.
  • It may increase your chances of being audited on the same issue in the future.
  • You may lose eligibility for or have difficulty obtaining tax relief that requires a clean tax record such as penalty relief or an installment agreement.

Can you handle this on your own?

If you agree with the IRS, it’s as simple as checking a box, signing a form, and writing a check. The real question is whether you should agree with the IRS in the first place. If the dollar amount in question is high, the tax issue is complex, or you’re worried about future consequences, you should talk to a tax professional.

What do you do if you disagree with the IRS?

If the IRS tells you that you owe additional taxes, penalties, and interest, you have the right to tell them no. Of course, you’ll need to tell them exactly why they’re wrong.

When the IRS assesses additional tax, it gives you two options. You can either agree and pay, or you can disagree and explain why. You may need to provide additional documents supporting your position or cite the portion of the tax code you’re relying on.

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