updated 2:11 PM CET, Oct 31, 2023

Expats with U.S. tax problems told: Why not try the IRS's 'Taxpayer Advocate Service?'

Since the 2022 U.S. tax reporting season began in January, U.S. taxpayers at home and abroad have been repeatedly warned that this will not be an easy year for the IRS, which is starting off with a backlog of at least 10 million unprocessed tax returns from last year. 

In fact, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins's annual report to Congress, published in January, was a disheartening litany of problems that continue to plague the IRS...

...many of which have been raised in the past but never dealt with, Collins pointed out – and which, she added, went on to overwhelm the tax collecting agency during the recent and still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, when most of the bureau’s offices were closed for more than a year. 

Among the points Collins made in one of the documents that comprised her 2022 report was that one measure of the IRS's "worst ever" service to U.S. taxpayers last year was the fact that the IRS's telephone call volumes almost trebled during the period, to 282 million calls, of which she noted that IRS customer service representatives were able to answer "just 11%".

Against this backdrop, therefore, we at the AXFNJ thought it would be worth re-posting an article that appeared some weeks back on the website of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, written by Paris-based Laura Snyder, an AARO board member who recently completed her three-year term as the sole international member of the IRS's Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP).

The TAP is a volunteer advisory organization that works – alongside the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate – to call the IRS's attention to issues that American taxpayers are struggling with. (Snyder's successor has not yet been named, according to an IRS spokesperson, but is expected to be soon.) 

Dr. Snyder's article, below, is based on a presentation made some weeks back to AARO members, of which Dr. Snyder is one, by Edwin Colon, the acting Local Taxpayer Advocate (LTA) for Puerto Rico and International.

Although Colon's organization sounds similar to the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel  Dr. Snyder's organization  in that it is comprised of regional representatives, is part of the IRS, and exists to call attention to problems ordinary taxpayers in the various districts are having with their tax-filing obligations, it is, in fact, quite different. 

Here, we'll let Dr. Snyder explain... 

The first thing to understand is that the "Taxpayer Advocate Service," which is comprised of "Local Taxpayer Advocates" (LTAs) like Edwin Colon of Puerto Rico, is very different from the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (my organization). 

For a start, the Taxpayer Advocate Service is not an advisory committee, comprised of volunteers, like the TAP. 

Instead, it is an independent organization within the IRS that consists of nearly 1,700 employees. And while the TAS does tick the boxes of an advocacy organization, it also delivers a systemic advocacy function: In other words, it has the legal capacity to actually help taxpayers to resolve their U.S. tax-reporting problems, rather than merely advising on them. 

TAS’s purpose is four-fold, and breaks down as follows. 

It exists to: 

(i) ...assist U.S. taxpayers at home and abroad with any individual issues they may have with the IRS;

(ii) ... identify systemic issues experienced by multiple taxpayers;

(iii) ... propose changes in the administrative practices of the IRS, to help to mitigate problems that are arising; and 

(iv) ... identity potential legislative changes to mitigate problems.

Best of all for some taxpayers, the assistance provided by the Taxpayer Advocate Service is made available free of charge, although there are certain eligiblity criteria.

These don't have to do with income levels, but rather, such factors as an immediate threat, to the taxpayer in question, of an adverse financial or other action, if a situation isn't resolved quickly; and the taxpayer's inability to resolve the issue in question through the IRS’s normal channels.

TAS also has an online tool that can assist taxpayers to understand if they are eligible for TAS services. The tool is available at https://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/.

TAS has at least one office in every U.S. state, as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. (The TAS office in Puerto Rico, as noted above, is responsible for overseas taxpayers.)

Overseas taxpayers who are eligible for TAS's services may contact the Puerto Rico office by phone at +1-787-522-8601 (English) or +1-787-522-8600 (Spanish).

Taxpayers requesting TAS assistance will also need to download and complete Form 911.

For more information, see the TAS website, by clicking here.

Laura Snyder croppedLaura Snyder, pictured left, is an American citizen who has spent the past 26 years living abroad, 24 of them in Paris.

Originally from Eureka, Illinois, she joined the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel in December 2018, and completed her term in December. Among her current projects is heading up a new education ad advocacy organization she launched, along with around half a dozen like-minded fellow U.S. expats, in October 2020, called Stop Extraterritorial American Taxation, or SEAT.  As she explained at the time, and as its name implies, SEAT's purpose is to help to bring about the end of "the taxation by the United States of the worldwide income of persons who are tax residents of another country."

The organization has a website, at http://seatnow.org/, a Twitter user name, @SEATNow_org, and a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/seat.now.tax.

To read Dr. Snyder's explanation of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, click here.

To read Dr. Snyder’s explanation of the Taxpayer Advocate Service on the AARO website, from which this article was adapted, click here.