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IRS Agents Using More Legal Summons in Document Fights

Uncle Sam Now More Likely to Flex Legal Muscles with Taxpayers


As the IRS intensifies its efforts to investigate more of the nation’s wealthy and businesses suspected of paying too little in taxes, its agents are now flexing their legal muscles earlier in the investigative process.

IRS agents have sharply increased the use of administrative summons, legally binding orders that compel people or businesses to produce sensitive documents required for IRS investigations. They’re normally sought when the IRS deals with uncooperative taxpayers, and after informal document requests, but more and more taxpayers are now fighting back.

Instances of litigation between taxpayers and the IRS increased from 44 in 2005 to 132 in 2011. The Taxpayer Advocate Service, which acts as the IRS’s watchdog, raised eyebrows when it stated that administrative summons was the IRS most common legal dispute with taxpayers.

If you get an administrative summons from the IRS, chances are you’ll either need or already have a tax attorney. But by working with a tax professional beforehand, you can get your back tax debt in order so you can avoid a tax attorney or administrative summons altogether.

While administrative summons are typically used in high-dollar disputes, their increased usage by IRS agents signals the adoption of more aggressive tactics when it comes to settling with people who owe back taxes.

An administrative summons comes after a more informal document request, but those who defy them face the risk of criminal sanctions. Laws favorable to the IRS have given its attorneys a 90 percent success rate when uncooperative taxpayers sued to void a summons.

While the IRS is playing more and more hardball, it’s a safe bet that you’re more likely to strike out with a bank levy or wage garnishment. But by working with a tax professional, you can always hit your back tax debt out of the park.

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