Congress Mulls Several Proposals to Protect Taxpayer Rights

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Members of Congress are currently considering a series of proposals meant to strengthen taxpayer rights. The latest of these, the "Taxpayer Protection Act of 2007" (H.R. 1677) was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee before it adjourned for the Congressional recess. It includes provisions that would

- prevent the IRS from giving third parties information about taxpayers' tax debts,
- require the IRS to notify taxpayers in cases where identify theft may have occurred,
- notify taxpayers that they may be eligible for the EITC,
- clarify rules that prevent deceptive use of the IRS's name (targeting websites like that people may believe belong to the IRS itself.)

Of particular note is the provision preventing the IRS from sharing tax debt information with predatory banks marketing refund anticipation loans (RALs). The IRS and some members of the committee argue that it would actually be in the taxpayers' interest to provide banks information helping them to determine whether a taxpayer is likely to repay a loan, and that without this information the interest rate on such loans could be higher to reflect that lack of certainty about repayment. But the provision targets those that are "predatory," which is not defined in the legislation. RALs sometimes have an interest rate around 90 percent.

We Should Be Able to File Our Taxes Online Easily & Without Paying a Tax Preparation Firm

Another taxpayer rights-related bill (S. 1074) has been introduced in the Senate by Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to create a single internet portal that can be used to file taxes online directly with the IRS for free. Currently people who file online must use the services of one of several companies that charge a fee for those with incomes above $52,000 and which subject users to advertisements for other products.

Outsourcing of Tax Collection in Congress's Crosshairs

A third bill in the area of taxpayer rights is the legislation introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 695/S. 335) that would end the IRS's use of private debt collectors. The program pays private contractors a commission of 21 to 24 cents for every dollar of tax debt that they recover, while it's estimated that IRS employees can do the job for about 3 cents for every dollar collected. Since the private contractors are paid on a commission unlike IRS employees, there is a concern among many that they have an incentive to be overly aggressive and less respectful of taxpayers' privacy rights, a concern echoed by Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate. If you haven't already, send your members of Congress a quick email in support of the legislation to end this program.

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