First-time penalty abatement (FTA) is when the IRS removes penalties from your tax debt. That includes penalties for failure to file, failure to pay, and failure to deposit. The IRS also removes interest related to those penalties.
Which Penalties Does the First Time Penalty Abatement Cover?
The FTA erases failure-to-file penalties. This is a stiff penalty for failing to file or filing late. The penalty is 5% of your balance per month.
The FTA also eliminates the failure-to-pay penalty. This penalty is 1/2 percent (.5%) of your outstanding tax debt per month. If you have penalties related to an audit, you may be able to get rid of those as well (but not accuracy related penalties).
Finally, the FTA also erases penalties related to a Failure to Deposit (941s) regarding payroll taxes. This would include things such as the deposit wasn’t made timely, for the correct amount, or in the correct manner.
How to Qualify for the First Time Penalty Abatement
To qualify for this penalty abatement, you must meet three basic criteria:
1. You incurred no penalties for the three prior tax years.
- The IRS only considers penalties that exceed $100. For example, if you received a $50 penalty in one of the previous three years, you can still qualify for the abatement.
- If you incurred penalties for underpaying estimated tax in previous years, don’t worry. The IRS does not take those penalties into account. You can still qualify for the first time penalty abatement.
2. You have filed all required returns or extensions
- If you have outstanding paperwork, you will not qualify. Before applying, make sure that you have filed all requested tax returns and extensions with the IRS.
3. You have made payment arrangements on your outstanding debt.
- You also must have paid your tax debt in full or set up a payment arrangement on your outstanding debt. If you are on a tax payment plan, you must be making regular payments. Your arrangement must be in good standing.
How to Apply for a First Time Penalty Abatement
Taxpayers may apply for first time penalty abatement online, in writing, or over the phone. In some cases, if you qualify, the IRS removes the penalties on the spot. In other cases, the IRS agrees to remove the penalties, but it does not do so until the tax debt is paid in full.
If the IRS refuses to remove the penalties right away, you will continue to see the penalties growing. As long as you qualify for the abatement, you don’t have to worry about that. The penalties will be removed eventually.
How Much Can Be Abated
The IRS only removes penalties incurred in the first year. There is a monetary limit on a number of penalties that can be removed. The agency has not published this limit, but it appears to be up to $10,000.
Abatement for Penalties More Than a Year Old
If you have tax penalties that extend back more than a year, the IRS will only remove them if you show “reasonable cause.” That means that you had a serious reason for not paying or filing your taxes.
To qualify, the situation must be out of your control. However, you must also show that you took steps to get past the issue. Basically, the IRS wants to see that you really tried to pay your taxes, but that it truly wasn’t possible.
Examples of Reasonable Cause
There are a number of situations that can constitute reasonable cause. Here are some of the most common reasons accepted by the IRS:
Records destroyed by flood, fire, or natural disaster
Inability to calculate the amount owed due to a lack of records
You were in Rehab or Prison
You were held hostage in another country
A close family member (spouse, child, etc.) died
A civil disturbance such as a mail strike prevented you from making payment
You received bad information from a tax professional
Bad advice from an IRS representative
In some cases, you can even receive an abatement for an error. However, you need to demonstrate that the error was made in good faith. The IRS may also accept other reasons. You should show that the issue created a situation where you truly couldn’t pay or file on time.
The IRS offers first-time penalty abatement and abatement for reasonable cause for years. However, many people don’t even know about these programs.
If penalties are mounting, it’s time to get help. Call the number at the top of the page or complete the free consultation request to get in touch with a tax professional. Accountants can help you eliminate your penalties and take care of your tax debt.