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What are the Time Limits for Assessing Additional Federal Tax and Filing a Refund Claim?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) must follow the “statute of limitations” as stated in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6501 to “assess” additional federal tax. Likewise, taxpayers must seek a tax overpayment or refund within the statutory period stated in IRC Section 6511. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common questions regarding when the IRS can assess additional federal tax and when taxpayers must file a refund claim.

WHEN DOES THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR ASSESSING ADDITIONAL TAXES START?

Typically, the period during which the IRS can seek additional tax starts when the taxpayer files their tax return. A taxpayer “self-assesses” when the amount of tax is stated on the return, but tax assessment can also occur when the IRS creates a “substitute for return” under IRC Section 6020. (For example, when the taxpayer fails to timely file a return.) Assessment merely means that the IRS records the tax liability on its official ledger for each taxpayer. An assessment is significant because it is legally considered a debt of the taxpayer for which the IRS can commence collection activities, like placing a lien and levy on property.

Self-Assessment Example: The taxpayer reports on a timely filed return a tax liability of $10,000 and submits payment of $5,000. The $10,000 tax is automatically assessed and constitutes a tax debt of the taxpayer, despite only a partial payment. In this case, the IRS would seek to collect the balance due ($5,000) from the taxpayer under the collection rules.

WHAT IS A TAX ASSESSMENT?

The IRS assesses tax by recording the amount owed in its official records. The assessment establishes the fact and amount of the tax liability that’s due to the IRS and starts the period during which the IRS can collect the amounts due and owing. Generally, the IRS may not lien or levy a taxpayer’s property until after an assessment is made.

There are three primary types of assessments:

  1. A “summary assessment” occurs automatically when the taxpayer reports an amount of tax on a return.
  2. A “jeopardy assessment” occurs when the IRS determines that the taxpayer may abscond with property that the IRS may need to lien and/or levy to satisfy a tax deficiency.
  3. A “tax deficiency assessment” occurs after the IRS determines the amount owed by the taxpayer and follows its procedures to permit the taxpayer to challenge its determination (usually after an audit).

STATUTORY NOTICE OF DEFICIENCY (THE 90-DAY LETTER)

If the IRS audits a return and determines that the taxpayer owes additional tax, it generally cannot assess the tax before sending the taxpayer a statutory notice of deficiency, or the so-called “90 day letter.” The letter must be sent by certified or registered mail to the last known address of the taxpayer (which is usually the address listed on the last return filed with the IRS). If the taxpayer does not file a timely petition with the US Tax Court in response to the 90-day letter, the IRS may then assess [...]

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Statutes of Limitation in the International Tax Context

As most taxpayers know, under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6501(a), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) generally has three years after a tax return is filed to assess any additional tax. However, Code Section 6501 provides several exceptions to this rule, including but not limited to the following.

  • False or fraudulent returns with the intent to evade tax (unlimited assessment period)
  • Willful attempt to defeat or evade tax (unlimited assessment period)
  • Failure to file a return (unlimited assessment period)
  • Extension by agreement (open-ended or for a specific period)
  • Adjustments for certain income and estate tax credits (separately provided in specific statutes)
  • Termination of private foundation status (unlimited assessment period)
  • Valuation of gifts of property (unlimited assessment period)
  • Listed transactions (assessment period remains open for one year after certain information is furnished)
  • Substantial omission of items (six-year assessment period)
  • Failure to include certain information on a personal holding company return (six-year assessment period)

If the IRS issues a notice of deficiency and the taxpayer files a petition in the Tax Court, the statute of limitations on assessment is extended until after the Tax Court’s decision becomes final. See Code Section 6503(a); see also Roberson and Spencer, “11th Circuit Allows Invalid Notice to Suspend Assessment Period,” 136 Tax Notes 709 (August 6, 2012). (more…)




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