The IRS is gearing up to outsource some taxpayer collection accounts to private collection agencies. Legislation passed in 2015 directed the IRS to resume working with private collection agencies. The revived program is expected to operate in a similar manner to past ones, with emphasis on taxpayer protections.
Code Sec. 6306 permits the IRS to use private debt collection agencies. The IRS last contracted with private collection agencies 10 years ago (after prior outsourcing in the 1990s). At that time, the agency initially assigned 12,500 taxpayer accounts to private collection agencies. The accounts were only amounts for which the taxpayer had admitted liability.
The IRS also placed some restrictions on private collection agencies. They were not authorized to take enforcement actions involving liens, levies, or property seizures, work cases where the taxpayer qualified for an installment agreement longer than five years, or be involved in offers-in-compromise, bankruptcies, hardship issues, or litigation.
The IRS ended its work with private collection agencies after three years. The IRS had initially estimated that private collection agencies would collect $88 million. A study by the National Taxpayer Advocate after the program ended reported that private collection agencies had recovered some $86 million.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (FAST Act) instructs the IRS to contract with private collection agencies for the collection of “inactive tax receivables.” The law defines “inactive tax receivables” as a taxpayer account that is:
- Removed from the IRS’s active inventory for lack of resources or inability to locate the taxpayer;
- For which more than one-third of the applicable limitations period has lapsed and no IRS employee has been assigned to collect the receivable; or
- For which, a receivable has been assigned for collection but more than 365 days have passed without interaction with the taxpayer or a third party for purposes of furthering the collection.
Some taxpayer accounts are expressly excluded and will not be turned over to private collection agencies. These include cases were the taxpayer is seeking innocent spouse relief, taxpayers in combat zones, taxpayers under an installment agreement or offer-in-compromise, cases under examination, and others.
President Obama signed the FAST Act into law in December 2015. Congress instructed the IRS to implement private tax collection “without delay.” To carry out the twin goals tax collection and taxpayer rights, lawmakers further directed the IRS to make it a priority to use collection contractors and debt collection centers currently approved by the U.S. Department.
Private collection agencies must adhere to the federal Fair Debt Collections Act. The Act prohibits debt collection companies from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect past due debts. Additionally, collection agencies cannot telephone at times they know, or should know, are inconvenient, such as before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m., unless the individual agrees otherwise.
Another protection involves payment. Taxpayers will not make payments directly to the private collection agencies. Payments are required to be processed by IRS employees. Additionally, taxpayers can request that their account be returned to the IRS and no longer worked by the private collection agency.