Your Rights as a US Taxpayer

Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate in Washington, D.C., heads up the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocacy Services Division and reports directly to Congress. She cannot be fired by Doug Shulman, Commissioner of IRS.

A report, issued by Nina Olson in 2012, urges Congress to codify a Taxpayer Bill of Rights that would clearly list the major rights and responsibilities of taxpayers. "The U.S. tax system is based on a social contract between the government and its taxpayers," Olsen wrote. "Taxpayers agree to report and pay the taxes they owe and the government agrees to provide the service and oversight necessary to ensure that taxpayers can and will do so."

Every US taxpayer has the right to professional representation in a tax audit. This means, that at any time during the course of an audit, the taxpayer can interrupt and stop the IRS agent conducting the exam and state that they are going to obtain representation. Once this is proclaimed by the taxpayer, the taxpayer no longer has a legal obligation to continue the dialogue with the revenue agent (see IRS Pub. 1 and 594).

Most Taxpayers Don’t Know Their Rights

Over the past two decades, Congress has enacted three significant taxpayer rights’ bills, but the number of bills and the lack of publicity have muddled the message. In a recent taxpayer survey, 55 percent of the respondents said they did not believe they had rights before the IRS, and 61 percent did not know what their rights are.

10 Taxpayer Rights

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s report recommends that Congress organize taxpayer rights under the following ten broad principles:

  1. Right to be informed
  2. ​​Right to be assisted
  3. Right to be heard
  4. ​​Right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax
  5. Right of appeal
  6. Right to certainty
  7. ​​Right to privacy
  8. ​​Right to confidentiality
  9. ​​Right to representation
  10. Right to a fair and just tax system

The report summarizes recommendations the Advocate has made in past reports to create additional taxpayer rights and recommends that those rights be incorporated into Taxpayer Bill of Rights legislation. "It has been 13½ years since we have had major taxpayer rights legislation," Olson wrote. "Our laws have not kept pace with our notions of procedural fairness in 21st century tax administration, particularly given our tax system’s expanded and diverse taxpayer base and duties."

Although the American taxpayer has many inherent rights, generally the taxpayer must obtain representation in order to preserve and effectively exercise these rights.