Offer in Compromise: Preparing IRS Form 433-A

You can submit IRS Form 433-A when you can't pay the IRS

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Sometimes big tax bills—or life in general—can take you by surprise. You may find yourself unemployed or otherwise suffering a financial setback, which means you are unable to pay the Internal Revenue Service what you owe. However, requesting an offer in compromise from the IRS might be one option to mitigate your situation.

What Is an Offer in Compromise?

An offer in compromise is a way to settle your tax debt for less than the amount that you owe, which is agreeable to the IRS if you meet certain requirements. The decision will be based on your unique circumstances such as your income, your expenses, how much equity you have in various assets, and how much of the debt the IRS thinks you are reasonably able to pay.

Form 433-A

You must submit Form 433-A, "Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-employed Individuals," to document your financial situation when you ask for an offer in compromise. The IRS uses this form to determine your "reasonable collection potential" on your tax debts.

Form 433-A is an eight-page form. Here's a breakdown of the information you must report in each of its sections.

Section 1: Personal Information

This section requests information about you and your household. For example, are you married? Do you own your own a home or do you rent? Who else lives with you? What is your address, date of birth, Social Security number, and contact information?

Section 2: Employment Information

This section asks for your employer and your occupation. You can also indicate here if you are self-employed. If you are married, you must provide this information for your spouse as well.

Section 3: Personal Asset Information

In this section, you must summarize your assets such as bank accounts and investments.

For bank accounts, provide the name and address of your bank branch, along with account numbers and current balances. Include information on all checking, savings, and money market accounts that you hold. You must also provide information on cash you have on hand that is not in a bank account.

Provide information about stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and any other investment assets you might own. Include time deposits, certificates of deposit, IRAs, Keogh plans, 401k plans, and annuities.

Detail any credit that is available to you. Report the name, address, credit limit, and current balance on all your credit cards, department store charge cards, and unsecured lines-of-credit. Do not report car loans and mortgages here.

Provide information about the cash value of your whole life or universal life insurance policies. Term life insurance policies do not accumulate cash value so you do not have to report these.

List the make, model, and model year information for each vehicle you own along with mileage, loan balance, lender, purchase date, and the amount of your monthly payment. Vehicles include all types of cars, trucks, vans, RVs, trailers, motorcycles, and boats whether they are purchased or leased.

It is a good idea to print out a report showing the fair market value of your vehicles. Explain what condition your car is in and its approximate market value. The Kelley Blue Book is a good source. Print out private-party values for the two closest vehicle conditions for guidance.

List all your personal assets including furniture, artwork, and jewelry.

Provide information about your house and other real estate you own in the real estate section including information about all mortgages and home equity lines of credit. Consider including either an appraisal of the actual properties or a report from a real estate agent showing sales of comparable homes. The IRS sometimes requests a full appraisal.

It is a good idea to detail the condition of the properties. If you recently tried to refinance your mortgage or obtain a home equity line of credit and received a rejection letter from lenders, this will show that lenders are unwilling to extend you additional credit at the present time.

Section 4: Self-Employed Information

Sections 4, 5, and 6 apply only if you own your business. You do not have to be incorporated or to have entered into any other business structure such as a partnership. You must complete these sections even if you are a sole proprietor.

Section 5: Business Asset Information

List any assets that are held in the name of your business such as computers, tools, equipment, or even real estate.

Section 6: Business Income and Expense Information

Detail your business's gross revenue and receipts and itemize your business expenses.

Monthly Household Income and Expense Information

Keep Social Security stubs, pension or annuity statements, copies of child support or alimony checks, or a statement of rental income and expenses for three months in advance in preparation for completing this section.

Consider preparing three budgets, each using different criteria.

Budget No. 1: Actual Income and Expenses

This represents your total income and total expenses per month. Tracking your expenses using Quicken, Quickbooks, or using a spreadsheet helps with budgeting. Take the average of the last three months of income and expenses and report them in the appropriate categories.

The crucial piece of information you are looking for is the difference between your total income and your total living expenses. If you have a positive number, you have disposable income for the month. You can use that disposable income figure to determine whether you can qualify for a monthly installment agreement instead of an offer in compromise.

Budget No. 2: Income and Expenses Using Some IRS Limits

This budget eliminates some of your expenses. The IRS will generally disallow any expense that is not directly related to the health, welfare, and sustenance of you and your family so detail any unusual but necessary expenses. A good example of this would be annual fees paid to renew an occupational license.

Unless an expense is directly related to your job, career, or sustenance, it is unlikely that the IRS will allow the expense. For example, cable television, private school, and credit card payments will not be considered in your allowable budget.

The items included in the monthly budget are listed in the Form 433-A footnotes and instructions for guidance. They include food, clothing, housekeeping supplies, personal care products, rent, mortgage payment, property taxes, renter's insurance, homeowner's insurance, HOA dues, electric and gas utilities, telephone utilities, water, fuel oil, and trash collection.

Car loan payments, lease payments, auto insurance, registration and license fees, maintenance, repair, gasoline, parking, tolls, or bus fare are also allowable as is other secured debt such as loans secured by a 401k or certificate of deposit.

Life insurance premiums, health insurance premiums, co-payments for doctors and medicines, hospitalization, and other medical and health care expenses can be included.

Taxes for federal income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, estimated tax payments, state income tax withholding, and local income tax withholding are all allowable expenses.

Child support, alimony, and other court-ordered payments are allowable.

Budget No. 3: Income and Expenses Using IRS Collection Financial Standards

The IRS has developed a set of national and local expense standards for food and clothing, housing and utilities, and transportation. Collectively, these expense guidelines are called the Collection Financial Standards.

Allowable monthly expenses for food, housing, and transportation are limited to the lower of your actual expense or the appropriate Collection Financial Standard. You will need your actual expenses as collected in Budget No. 1 to compare.

Food and clothing expenses are limited by national standards for allowable living expenses. Residents of Alaska and Hawaii have higher allowable food and clothing expenses. The national standard is broken down by the number of people in a family and monthly gross income.

Housing expenses are limited by local standards for housing expenses. The standard is broken down by the number of people in a family and the county where the family resides.

Transportation expenses are limited by regional standards for transportation expenses. The standard is broken down by the number of cars in a family and the region where the family resides.

Section 8: Calculate Your Minimum Offer Amount

It will probably seem as though you have extra money under the IRS budget than you do under your actual budget. Budget No. 3 generally becomes the foundation for calculating your reasonable collection potential on the worksheet for Form 433A that appears in Section 8.

Section 9: Other Information

This is where you will enter all additional information. The IRS will want to know if you are a beneficiary in someone's will, trust, or insurance policy. Have you filed for bankruptcy in the last 10 years? If so, what was the outcome? Are you involved in any lawsuits? Have you sold or transferred any assets for which you did not receive compensation equal to their full value? Do you own any real estate outside the United States?

Some Final Information

Both car loans and mortgages relate to your offer in compromise in several important ways. First, the IRS generally does not want you to have to sell your car or home in order to pay off your tax debt. It prefers that you keep your home and car and find other ways to pay your taxes such as taking out a home equity line of credit.

The IRS will thus look at the fair market value of your house and compare it to your outstanding mortgage balance to determine if there is equity there that you can tap. The IRS will also discount the value of your house, cars, and other vehicles to their "quick sale" value.

This value is equal to 80 percent of the property's current fair market value. Some taxpayers will find that they are "upside down" on their loans using this formula. The loan balance exceeds the quick sale value of their car, truck, or real estate.

The IRS might ask a taxpayer to sell a second or third car or to sell a house with substantial equity before an offer in compromise will be approved. These matters are generally open for negotiation between the IRS and a taxpayer. Just be aware that the IRS is looking to collect as much money as possible given your unique financial situation.

Offers in compromise and the accompanying paperwork are complicated. Consider consulting a tax professional to have your forms reviewed prior to submission to the IRS.

Tax laws change periodically and the above information might not reflect the most recent changes. The information contained in this article is not intended as tax advice, and it is not a substitute for tax advice.

Required Attachments to Form 433A

You must attach to Form 433A any of the following documentation that applies to your situation:

  • Copy of your last tax return (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ with all schedules).
  • Proof of income for the last three months.
  • Bank statements for the last three months.
  • Current brokerage and/or annuity statements.
  • Credit card statements for the last three months.
  • Statements from insurance companies showing the cash value, loan value, and/or surrender value of your policy.
  • Current statements from mortgage lenders.
  • Proof of your business's income and expenses for the last three months if you are self-employed.
  • Proof of all current expenses for the last three months.
  • Proof of all transportation expenses for the last three months.
  • Proof of all health care expenses for the last three months.
  • Proof of any court-ordered payments for the last three months.