Confronting an unfamiliar IRS form can be a little bit daunting. There are, of course, forms you can breeze through with your eyes shut because you’ve filled out hundreds or even thousands of them over the years. But that familiarity often only makes the less common forms feel more alien and outside your comfort zone.
To ease your mind we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to filling out IRS forms, including:
Tips and tricks that will help you gain the confidence you need to attack that Form 433-A without hesitation
The best method for figuring out where to send each form
Information on common and complex tax forms that we get questions about often
Let’s dive in.
Best Practices for Filling Out IRS Forms
IRS forms can vary significantly from form to form. Still, there are a few tips and tricks you can use on all of them to make them easier to fill out—and less likely to get tossed out by the busy people at the IRS. Let’s take a look at a few best practices when it comes to filling out IRS forms.
Read the Instructions
When you find yourself in a situation where you need to fill out an unfamiliar form, the first thing you should do is read the instructions. It may sound obvious, but there really are few better places to learn about how to fill out a form than from the dedicated instructions sheets that the IRS publishes for every form they use. You can find all of them right here, or you can search for the form number plus instructions (ex. “form 941 instructions”).
The instructions are typically comprehensive and include examples and things to watch out for on each form. This is almost always the best place to start when you’re starting to research a form.
Fill Out Your Forms Digitally
One of the most surefire ways to get any form rejected is to submit something illegible. Revenue officers have too much on their plates to try to figure out if you wrote a one or a seven. If they can’t read it, they’re likely to reject it—or at least send it back to you and tell you to fix it. Either way, that’s time and effort you’ve wasted.
The easy solution is to use your computer to fill out all of your IRS forms. Even if you don’t use automated form filling software like Canopy, all the forms on the IRS website are editable PDFs that you can fill out right in your browser, no software required.
Double Check Your Work
It may come as a surprise, but revenue officers see a lot of bad math and other simple errors on the forms that come across their desks. Not because tax pros are sloppy or bad at math, but because perfectly filling out a 433-A—or any other complex form—is hard. It requires juggling dozens of complex numbers and figures, not to mention all the explanations and supporting documentation that you may need to accompany the numbers. So mistakes—misspelled words, blank lines, right entries in wrong sections—are made more often than you might guess.
“Just like a form that’s unreadable, a form with mistakes on it will probably get sent back to you to fix—and possibly just get rejected outright.”
Just like a form that’s unreadable, a form with mistakes on it will probably get sent back to you to fix—and possibly just get rejected outright. It’s also another problem that using form filling software can help you easily avoid by doing the math for you and making sure you don’t leave important fields blank.
Be Sure You’re Using the Best Form
There are some forms with very similar functions or that look similar on the surface. That doesn’t mean these forms are interchangeable. It’s important that you take the time to understand which form is best for (or required by) the situation before you just dive in. You don’t want to waste time filling out a 433-A only to find out that you only needed to submit the less complex Form 433-F.
And wasted time is the mildest of consequences for submitting the wrong form for the situation. For example, once you file Form 2848, Request for Power of Attorney, you are legally responsible to represent your client. If you fail to meet the expectation of a rigorous defense on behalf of your client, you could very well find yourself at the pointy end of a malpractice lawsuit.
Unless you already have a thorough understanding of your client’s situation, it’s often best to file an 8821, Tax Information Authorization, before you commit to full power of attorney. That way you can get a full understanding of your client’s situation and determine if power of attorney is actually necessary.
Where to Send Your Finished IRS Forms
Once you’ve finished filling out your IRS forms, you need to (of course) get them in the hands of the right people. Unfortunately, there isn’t one single place you will send all of your forms. Each form will go to a slightly different place or person, depending on the form and the circumstances.
For instance, you will send Form 2848, Request for Power of Attorney, to a CAF unit determined by your client’s permanent residence, while Form 433-A, Financial Information Statement, will be mailed or faxed directly to the revenue officer in charge of your client’s collections case. The mailing address for Form 941 not only depends on the state where your client lives but whether or not you’re including a payment with the form. And, of course, the IRS occasionally makes changes that alter where you should send your forms.
All of this combined means that your best option for knowing where to send your IRS forms is to consult the instructions for the form you’re working on.
Quick Info for a Few Common and Complex IRS Forms
Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative
Form 2828 allows tax professionals to:
Represent their client before the IRS as if they were the taxpayer
Define and limit the scope of the authority their client wishes to grant
Receive confidential tax information for their client, including tax returns, transcripts, and IRS notices
Form 2848 is typically used when a CPA or enrolled agent is helping a client resolve tax debt issues but can be used for any reason a taxpayer is unable to represent themselves before the IRS.
More info on Form 2848
Tax Information Authorization
When helping your client resolve an issue with the IRS, you need access to their personal tax information.
Form 8821 authorizes any individual, organization, or tax professional to receive confidential tax documents for their client. It can also revoke previous tax information authorizations that are no longer required.
By accessing this information, you can identify which returns your client needs to file, how much tax, interest, and penalties are due, or if their account is in collections.
However, Form 8821 does not authorize you to represent your client before the IRS. This includes speaking on your client’s behalf, executing waivers, consents, closing agreements, or any other representative matters. If you need to represent your client before the IRS, you’ll need to use Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative.
More info on Form 8821
Installment Agreement Request
IRS Form 9465 is a collections form, meaning it’s only useful if your client owes back taxes to the IRS. Specifically, Form 9465 is used when setting up an installment agreement, or payment plan, on behalf of your client. However, there are several reasons not to use Form 9465 even when setting up an installment agreement for a client.
If your client owes less than $50k, don’t use the 9465. Instead, use the IRS’s online payment agreement tool for a faster, smoother experience.
If your client currently owns a business, don’t use the 9465. Potential complications (such as overdue payroll taxes) are more than Form 9465 is designed to handle. Instead, get in contact with the revenue officer assigned to your client and start the process of filling out a Form 433-D.
In other words, if your client has a tax debt of more than $50k and doesn’t own a business, Form 9465 is the right installment agreement collections form for you.
More info on Form 9465
Form 433 (various)
Collection Information Statement
The IRS will often require taxpayers to submit Form 433 in order to resolve a tax matter. This form is extremely important because it will often change the outcome of your client’s tax issue with the IRS. The most commonly used form is Form 433-A.
Form 433-A – Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-Employed Individuals
This is the base form the IRS uses to determine a taxpayer’s financial hardship. It is used to collect information about income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. This form may be required for multiple reasons such as requests for installment agreements and financial updates for taxpayers with an OIC already in place.
Form 433-A (OIC) – Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-Employed Individuals
Used for Offer in Compromise cases. The form is included in the Offer In Compromise Booklet, also known as Form 656.
Form 443-B – Collection Information Statement for Businesses
Used for collecting financial information from businesses rather than individuals.
Form 433-D – Installment Agreement
Used to request complex installment agreements, such as when the taxpayer is a business owner rather than a wage earner. You’ll always submit a 433-A along with this form.
Form 433-F – Collection Information Statement
Used for tax debts that are smaller, generally less than $50k. It is more streamlined and simpler, due to the smaller size of the tax debt.
More info on Form 433
Application for Withdrawal of Federal Tax Lien
IRS liens can be resolved in two different ways—release and withdrawal.
A lien release gets rid of most of the immediate effects of a lien. Because the IRS no longer has any interest in the assets, your client may sell or transfer their assets at will.
The IRS will release a lien 30 days after the tax debt has either been satisfied through an installment agreement or Offer in Compromise. A lien will also automatically be released 30 days after the collections statute expiration date, or CSED, or if the tax debt is discharged in bankruptcy.
A lien release, however, does not erase all of the effects of a lien. The lien will remain on the taxpayer’s credit history unless the IRS withdraws the lien. A withdrawn lien can be removed from the client’s credit history as if it had never been issued.
IRS Form 12277 is the form you will use to to request that withdrawal.
More info on Form 12277
Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return
If you’re doing payroll taxes for your clients, you’ll be filling out the 941 form regularly.
Even if your business clients use some other service for payroll (such as ADP or Gusto), it’s good to be aware of their payroll situation so you can help them avoid costly penalties.
Federal law requires employers to withhold certain taxes from their employees' pay—typically income, Medicare, and social security taxes. In addition, employers are responsible for paying an additional “employer share” of social security and Medicare taxes. Collectively, these withholdings are generally referred to as “payroll taxes.”
Form 941 is used to report these payroll taxes, as well as wages paid by an employer. However, that doesn’t mean that all income should be reported on Form 941. Don’t use this form to report backup withholding or income tax withholding on non-payroll payments such as pensions, annuities, or gambling winnings. Withholding from these forms of income are reported on Form 945, Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax.
More info on Form 941
Election by a Small Business Corporation
Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, is filed by a corporation or other eligible entity to make an election to be an S-corporation under section 1362(a). Corporations are treated as C-corporations unless the proper steps are taken to become an S-corporation. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know if you’re helping a small business client who wants to make an S-corp election.
More on Form 2553
Election To Treat a Qualified Revocable Trust as Part of an Estate
Form 8855 is used to make a section 645 election, which is an election to treat a qualified revocable trust (QRT) as an estate. It’s used by the trustees of each QRT and the executor of the related estate. Once the section 645 election is made, it’s irrevocable.
This election also allows for filing several QRTs as an estate. However, the trust and estate will be treated as separate shares for calculating the distributable net income. Once the election is made, it will be valid for two years following the decedent’s date of death.
More on Form 8855
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