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Key tips if you owe back federal or state taxes

Due process is an important element of our legal system in Minnesota and the rest of the U.S. If you are facing criminal charges, due process requires the government to follow procedures in protection of your rights. Call it a matter of upholding the ideal that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Tax collectors have similar responsibilities to follow due process steps. In addition, they face what some might consider to be a higher standard to make sure that any individual suspected of being delinquent on taxes owed understands the amount sought, why, and what his or her rights are. Even with all that, it can become easy to get defensive – perhaps to a fault. An experienced attorney's guidance can help.

If the IRS or Departments of Revenue in Minnesota or Wisconsin do move against you for alleged back taxes, the following tips may be useful.

  • Respect the source. If the government believes you owe taxes, it must notify you by certified letter. When notice comes, failure to respond will mean greater consequences for you.
  • Expect respect in return. IRS rules require the agency to explain your right to professional representation. They also require respectful treatment of the taxpayer.
  • Don't go it alone. The collectors are there to collect. By working with a legal and/or tax experts, you can improve your chance of getting an outcome acceptable to you.
  • Be willing to question collectors' claims. To err is human and tax collectors are as human as any of us. Nor should their information be taken as gospel. You can question apparent errors.
  • Appreciate your options. Those who purposely evade taxes may need to worry about prison, but just owing back taxes won't result in jail. If you can't pay what you owe, learn what options may exist for resolving your issues. Then make an informed choice.

Agency rules for treating taxpayers with respect and being transparent about due process does not diminish the power collectors wield. To avoid the worst penalties, prompt and thoughtful communication is key.

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