Once upon a time there was a taxpayer, who, having been wrongly accused by the Internal Revenue Service of paying insufficient taxes, decided to pit herself against one of our government's largest bureaucracies -- and won.
This is not a fairy tale. It's a true story. Although the giant I confronted is not your standard hairy, one-eyed variety, it is a fearsome monster, spitting out computerized letters and forms in such rapid volleys as to intimidate the most valiant fighter.
It took me 1 1/2 years, maneuvering slowly but doggedly and enlisting the aid of my congressman, to put this monster into retreat. But it was worth the battle. It taught me some basic rules to deal with any enormous conglomerate, whether it is the United States government or big business.
Rule Number One: Make absolutely sure you're right before you decide to dig in and fight. This I did by calling the Internal Revenue Service and telling the person who answered that I had some questions concerning my tax return. When at last I had a real live person on the other end listening to me, I put my questions slowly and in detail. It took me about four telephone transfers within the bureau to finally reach someone who could and would answer my questions to my satisfaction.
I was also informed as to which section and pages of the IRS regulations dealt explicitly with my problem. At my public library I found a copy of the pertinent regulation and made several photocopies. It reinforced my conviction that I had been accused mistakenly of income-tax delinquency, and fired up my determination that I was not going to pay the IRS any money to which it was not entitled.
Rule Number Two: Document! Photocopy every scrap of correspondence between you and your adversary and any other party even remotely involved in the case. Any forms, tax returns, receipts and pertinent regulations should also be photocopied and arranged in chronological order. Always make sure you have at least one complete set of photographs, and if at all possible, don't let the originals leave your hands.
Rule Number Three: Contact your congressman. I might still be engaged in my dispute had it not been for the prompt and informed cooperation of my congressman and his staff. When it became clear that no matter how many letters I wrote to the IRS, the same computerized reply would be snapped back at me -- with interest penalties mounting -- I wrote my congressman a letter explaining in detail my dilemma and including all of the documentation pertaining to my problem.
I was rewarded with a letter shortly afterward from a member of his staff, stating an interest in my case and providing the name and telephone number of an IRS official in charge of appeals. After I contacted this individual and waited several weeks without hearing from him, I wrote to my congressman again. This time I received a phone call from his aide asking me to call him back if I had not heard from the appeals staff of the IRS within a specified period of time. This time it worked -- I was given an appointment for a date six weeks later to speak personally with an employe of the IRS who would hear me out and decide the final outcome of my case.
As part of my investigation of tax laws, I had telephoned three attorneys referred to me by our local bar association as specializing in income-tax litigation. The three attorneys whom I consulted via telephone, at no charge, were willing to help and two of them took the time, while I waited on the line, to search through their files on tax laws. One of them said that if I needed to re-appeal, he would represent me for a fee equal to about one-sixth the amount the IRS was trying to collect from me (which started at about $2,000 and with interest penalties mounted to about $3,600).
Rule Number Four: Persist! The appointed day of my hearing with the IRS auditor arrived, and with hopes raised high, I sat down across the desk from the woman who would finally end this harrassment. Disbelief, frustration and finally anger quickly replaced any hope for relief. It was almost immediately apparent that she had not even taken the time to examine my file (bulging with copies of my letters and documentation) in the six weeks since I had received notice of the hearing.
After an hour and a half, during which I painstakingly went over the entire case and during which she left her desk several times to consult a computer for information (readily available from the file in front of her), she made her "decision." She announced that even though I may be in the right, I could not prove it, and therefore was liable for the alleged deficient taxes, plus the penalties that had been added periodically over the year and a half since the allegation had been made.
My congressman heard from me loudly and clearly. I wrote him once again, describing verbatim the farcical "appeal" to which I had just been subjected. Within three days I received a telephone call from his aide advising me that I should be receiving a call shortly from the examiner who had heard my case. That call came the next day, during which she told me that my taxes had been found "in order," and all penalties had been dropped.
And so, 18 months after my dispute with this immense bureaucracy began, it was finally over. During this unpleasant -- but enlightening -- episode, I learned that one individual can prevail. But you can't be the type who gives up easily.