Frequently Asked Questions About Balances


Explore the section below that best describes your help need.

The IRS sends notices to advise of outstanding balances and changes to your personal tax account. If you received a notice, it is important to read it very carefully and to keep a record of it to refer to when addressing your notice.  You’ll need to determine if you agree that you owe the balance.

Learn more about understanding your notice

If you agree with the balance on your notice or online account, you’ll want to pay the amount due. You can use the available payment options to pay your balance or to create a payment plan.

If you do not agree with the balance on your notice or online account, continue through the frequently asked questions and if necessary you’ll need to respond to the notice and tell the IRS why you don’t owe the amount due.

View Online Tools and Resources and get telephone assistance.

If you filed your tax return or paid your taxes late, the IRS may have assessed one or more penalties on your account.  In some cases, the IRS will waive the penalties for filing and paying late. However, you’ll need to ask the IRS to do this.

Be prepared to explain to the IRS what issues you faced and why they caused you to file your tax return or pay your taxes late. You should also be prepared to show the IRS you’ve corrected the situation and you won’t have problems filing and paying on time in the future.

Learn more about Penalty Relief

If you filed your tax return and then realize you made a mistake, you may need to amend the return, which may change your tax liability.

Learn more and get help amending a return.

Your tax return can be incorrect or incomplete for many different reasons; from simply forgetting to sign a form to not reporting income or incorrectly calculating a credit. It can also happen because of various errors when filing electronically. Depending on the nature of the error you need to fix and when you realize you need to change your return, there are different ways to fix an incorrect or incomplete return.

Learn more about fixing an incorrect or incomplete return

You are considered an injured spouse if you filed a joint tax return and your share of the refund was (or will be) applied against a separate past due debt that belongs just to your spouse. The past due amount can be a federal debt, state income tax debt, state unemployment compensation debt, or child or spousal support payments.

Learn more about Injured Spouse.

When you file a joint tax return, you and your spouse are each individually responsible for the tax, penalties, and interest that arise even if you later divorce.

If your spouse or former spouse improperly reported deductions or did not report income that you were unaware of, you may be an innocent spouse and may be able to request relief from the liability.

Learn more about Innocent Spouse

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.  You may be unaware that this has happened until you e-file your return and discover that a return already has been filed using your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying we have identified a suspicious return using your SSN. Be advised that these situations may also occur for reasons other than identity theft.

There are several steps you may need to take as outlined in the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.

If the tax you owe is because of an audit you didn’t know about or were not able to provide any information for, you might be able to ask the IRS to take another look at your records through the audit reconsideration process.

Get help understanding audit reconsideration.

An Offer in Compromise (OIC) is an agreement between you and the IRS, where the IRS agrees to accept less than the full amount you owe.

Learn more about Offer in Compromise

There are two main reasons the IRS may agree to accept less than the full amount you owe:

  • Doubt as to Collectability: This means you don’t have enough income or assets to pay your debt in full.
  • Effective Tax Administration:  You can pay your full debt, but it would create an economic hardship, or would be unfair or inequitable.

Another reason the IRS may accept payment of less than the full amount of tax owed is doubt as to liability (that is, you don’t believe you owe the tax, or you don’t believe the amount is correct).

Use the IRS’s Offer-in-Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool to see if you qualify for an OIC.

An IRS notice may alert you to a mistake on your tax return or that it’s being audited. You can verify the information that was processed by the IRS by viewing a transcript of the return to compare it to the return you may have signed or approved. You can access your tax records through account. If you are the victim of return preparer fraud or misconduct, you will need to demonstrate it to the IRS.

Learn more about preparer issues.

If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, learn about the most recent tax relief provisions to know your options.

Call an IRS customer service representative. You should have your information ready, including your tax return information.

Get telephone assistance

Submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to obtain the following:

  • Your audit report form
  • Your work papers
  • Your notices

Submit a FOIA request

If you are having a tax problem that you haven’t been able to resolve on your own, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) may be able to help.  As an independent organization within the IRS, TAS protects taxpayers’ rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS, and recommends changes that will prevent the problems from happening in the future.

Review the Taxpayer Bill of Rights

You may be eligible for help if your IRS problem is causing financial difficulty or you believe an IRS procedure just isn't working as it should.

Read more about the kinds of cases TAS works.

TAS has offices in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. If you qualify for help, you will be assigned to one advocate who will be with you at every turn. TAS advocates work with the IRS to get your problems resolved and our services are always free.

To speak to an advocate, call (877) 777-4778 or contact your local office.

Find your local TAS office

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC) can represent you before the IRS or in court on audits, appeals, tax collection matters, and other tax disputes. Services are provided for free or for a small fee. The LITC assists low income individuals who have a tax dispute with the IRS, and provides education and outreach to individuals who speak English as a second language (ESL). In order to qualify for assistance from an LITC, generally a taxpayer’s income must be below a certain threshold, and the amount in dispute with the IRS is usually less than $50,000.

Learn more about Low Income Tax Clinics