Better to be Employed when Filing OIC

The Offer in Compromise (OIC) is an IRS program whereby some taxpayers are able to settle their tax debts for less than what they owe.  But the OIC option is not for everyone.  For instance, if the fair market value of taxpayer’s assets adds up to more than what is owed, then OIC is not an option.  Also, OIC is not a good option if a taxpayer’s income is too high.

So how does the IRS calculate income while reviewing an OIC filed by a taxpayer who is unemployed?  There are many different options:

  1. Unemployment Income – If the Offer Examiner is focused purely on what the taxpayer is earning at the present, then it would make sense to simply use the monthly unemployment benefit amount. However, it is unusual for the IRS to go this route because unemployment benefits tend to be temporary. If the IRS is going to wipe the slate clean then they want to be sure they are getting every last dime they can possibly get from the taxpayer. Unemployment income is normally an understatement of one’s true earning potential.
  2. Income history – Sometimes the IRS compares a taxpayer’s current income with income reported via tax returns going back 1, 2, 3, or even more years. If the present year income appears to be an anomaly, then the IRS may elect to calculate an average income using several years’ tax returns.
  3. Income potential – This is similar to using an income history because it seeks to determine what the taxpayer can theoretically make rather than taking the current income for face value. One example of using income potential would be to increase the income of a taxpayer who is close to finishing school and who will be moving into a high-paying field of work.
  4. Impute income – I have seen the IRS simply impute/assign minimum wage when a taxpayer is unemployed.  However, the IRS is not likely going to do this if the taxpayer has a history of high wages.
  5. Reject the Offer – I put rejection as a final option because, in reality, if the IRS is unable to determine what the taxpayer’s income is, they are more likely to reject the offer than struggle too long figuring it out.

Income is one of the most important factors that the IRS looks at when determining whether to accept or reject an Offer in Compromise. Based on my experience, the IRS simply does not believe it when someone claims their income is $0.  Since the IRS is going to resort to one of the above analyses or simply reject the offer when unemployed, then it is safe to say that an OIC is a more successful form of tax relief for those who have a steady job.