What Is the Taxpayer First Act?

Changes Range From Customer Service to Refund Assistance

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants to be liked just like everyone else—or, at least, our federal legislators want taxpayers to like the IRS. It might seem like a stretch, but the Taxpayer First Act of 2019 takes some steps in the right direction. Signed into law on July 1, 2019, its goal is to make the IRS a more “taxpayer-friendly” entity and to enforce some taxpayers’ rights. It addresses identity theft protection as well.

Customer Service Tweaks and Improvements

The Act obligates the Department of the Treasury to come up with a customer service plan for the IRS, as well as a plan to reorganize the structure of the IRS and to submit them to Congress by the end of Fiscal Year 2020.

Some smaller requirements were put immediately into place, too. For example, the next time you call the IRS and you’re placed on hold, you should hear a recording that addresses identity theft and tax scams, offering options to those who know or suspect that they might be victims.

And remember how frustrating it was to try to pay your taxes owed with a credit or debit card? It used to be that you had to go through an approved third party who would then transmit the payment to the IRS. The Act fixes that. Now you’ll be able to pay taxes directly to the IRS with a credit or debit card, but for a fee.

Rehiring Fired Agents

IRS hiring practices have been changed as well. The IRS is no longer permitted to rehire employees who were terminated due to misconduct (yes, it came to light that the agency was doing just that). The agency rehired literally hundreds of these employees in 2014 alone.

Moreover, the Act obligates the IRS to notify any taxpayer if an IRS employee is disciplined for actions related to their tax return, specifically disclosing information contained there or viewing documents that they’re not entitled to see. It isn’t clear what the taxpayer can do about such a situation though. This new rule applies to employees of any other state or federal agency as well.

An Independent Office of Appeals

The IRS might be trying to be a bit friendlier, but this doesn’t mean that the agency is going to look the other way when taxpayers make mistakes. The Act also requires that the IRS set up an Independent Office of Appeals for dealing with taxpayer disputes.

The idea is to address issues without the need for litigation. An independent third party will make decisions, leaving the tax court out of it.

You’ll know what you’re up against, too, before you engage in the appeals process. The Act requires that the IRS provide taxpayers with their case files in advance. However, this provision isn’t automatic. You have to make an official request for your file. 

Tax Assistance Program Tweaks

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program gets some attention, too. The Act requires that the Department of the Treasury set up a grant-matching program to funnel money toward tax preparation assistance for low-income taxpayers and to educate the public about the availability of this assistance. 

As for those Taxpayer Assistance Centers you can turn to for help, the IRS is now obligated to provide all affected taxpayers with at least 90 days’ notice before they close any of them, and it must tell taxpayers where they can go for assistance instead.

Other Refund Fraud and Identity Theft Measures

The Taxpayer Act places restraints on who outside the IRS has access to your tax return and information. The IRS is no longer permitted to divulge information on your tax return to any local, state, or federal agency, or its contractors, unless that entity has specific measures in place to protect that information. 

Tax law has long prohibited the IRS from sharing your tax information with “other parties” in general, but the agency is permitted to disclose it to select entities, including state tax agencies, law enforcement, and the Social Security Administration. 

The Taxpayer Act of 2019 requires that the IRS issue identity protection identification numbers (PINs) to taxpayers in an effort to combat tax-related identity theft, and to contact taxpayers if the agency has reason to believe that their identities have been infringed upon. It must provide identity theft victims with a single point of contact within the IRS for assistance. 

PINs have been available for some time, but only to taxpayers who’ve already had their tax lives compromised. The Act makes PINs available to anyone whose identity has been stolen, regardless of whether their tax accounts have been affected. Essentially anyone can request a PIN now. 

Some More Refund Protection 

The Act will protect you if you requested a direct deposit of your tax refund but didn’t receive the money. The IRS is now permitted to take action to recover refunds that are transmitted to the wrong taxpayer and to make sure that the right taxpayer gets the money. 

This hasn’t always been the case. Historically, the IRS’s hands have been tied in this situation.

Collection of Taxes

The Act also aids taxpayers with regard to the collection of taxes they owe. The IRS can no longer involve private debt collection agencies to assist them in collecting from low-income taxpayers or those whose incomes derive from disability insurance, although others don’t share this protection. 

If you’re willing to pay what you owe but need some extra time to come up with the money, the Act has extended IRS installment agreements to seven years. Historically, taxpayers have only had five years to settle their tax debts using this option.

The Penalty for Failure to File

Now for some bad news. The penalty for failure to file a tax return has been $205 or 100% of the tax due, whichever is less. Admittedly, that $205 was indexed for inflation, so it crept upward from time to time. But the Act really ramps it up for tax returns that are due any time after Dec. 31, 2019. It’s now $330.

These Are Just a Few of the Changes

This list is by no means the entirety of it. The Taxpayer First Act encompasses numerous single-spaced pages of revisions to the tax code, most of them designed to create a new and improved IRS. It sets some new rules and restraints in place for the seizure of assets, too, as well as whistleblower reforms. The United States Senate Committee on Finance provides the entire Taxpayer First Act of 2019 for those interested in reading it. 

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Taxpayer First Act." Accessed Feb. 12, 2020.

  2. Congress.gov. "H.R.3151 - Taxpayer First Act." Accessed Feb. 12, 2020.

  3. United States Senate Committee on Finance. "Taxpayer First Act of 2019." Page 10. Accessed Feb. 12, 2020.

  4. United States Senate Committee on Finance. “Taxpayer First Act of 2019.” Page 11. Accessed Feb. 12, 2020. 

  5. United States Senate Committee on Finance. "Taxpayer First Act of 2019." Page 6. Accessed Feb. 12, 2020.

  6. Congress.gov. “H.R. 3151—Taxpayer First Act.” Accessed Feb. 12, 2020.

  7. United States Senate Committee on Finance. “Taxpayer First Act of 2019.” Page 12. Accessed Feb. 12, 2020.