You’ve probably heard of the National Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) — this is the quasi-independent agency charged with looking out for the rights of taxpayers across the nation. They like to say that they’re “your voice at the IRS.” The head of TAS is Nina Olson and she has made her way into this blog on several occasions. And if you live in California, you may know that we have a state counterpart to TAS called the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate’s Office, the top advocate being Steve Sims.
These advocate groups, on both the national and the state level, love to point out what they have done to fight for the average taxpayer in the name of tax relief. So I wasn’t surprised to see a self-congratulatory statement from Sims in the July 2013 edition of the FTB Tax News newsletter. And I wasn’t surprised that the statement had to do with increasing the lien filing threshold for Californians with state tax debts. The IRS did this too some time back as a way to help those who struggle with heavy tax burdens in a down economy.
A tax lien is a collection tool used by both the IRS and FTB to protect their interest when taxes are owed. When a notice of tax lien is filed, it puts other creditors on notice and acts as a smudge on that person’s credit. Increasing the threshold for lien filings is a good thing for both taxpayers and the taxing entity; it has been shown that they are one of the least effective tax collection tools anyway.
So, what was surprising then? Well, Steve Sims announced that FTB “increased the general guideline amount for filing a lien from $1,000 to $2,000 beginning in July 2013.” What a miserable little success that was for him and his staff! Hardly worth bragging about in my humble opinion.