Published on: June 10, 2016 Last modified: June 16, 2019

Lengthy Process for Many Innocent Spouse Requests

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    Innocent spouse relief allows you to file jointly with a spouse but assign a portion of the refund or tax bill to each spouse. This is often preferable to filing married filing separate which limits available credits and deductions.

    The IRS must apply a tax refund to past-due Federal taxes (including debt related to a tax audit of underreported income), child or spousal support arrears, delinquent student loans and state income tax debt. When spouses file together the full refund can be used to pay debts owed by one spouse. In this blog, we explain why it is important to consult a tax attorney before filing for injured spouse relief.

    Audit finds processing time for innocent spouse relief not always timely

    The IRS can refund a portion of a return to an injured spouse for his or her share of the expected or past refund. From 2014 to 2015, the IRS closed 730,956 of these cases.

    The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration audited the program to determine if taxpayer requests were accurately and timely processed.

    While approximately 90 percent of the cases were processed accurately, about 30 percent of the cases took longer than the required 45 days. On average, it took 102 days to resolve the cases. This ended up costing the IRS a significant amount of interest when cases were not resolved in a timely manner.

    Limitations period

    TIGTA also recommended that the IRS finally update its innocent spouse instructions. The current ones do not inform taxpayers that claims can be filed for previous years.

    Two important limitations periods were also left out of the instructions:

    • You can go back six years on claims related to nontax debt
    • For tax debt it is only three years.

    This audit reveals why it is important to seek the guidance of a tax attorney when a spouse owes significant tax or nontax debt. An attorney can ensure you meet all the requirements, even those not listed explicitly in guidance available to taxpayers online.

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