Taxpayer Tips: Best Practices for U. S. Tax Court

by M. Robinson & Company, P.C.

Taxpayers contesting IRS assessments of additional taxes, penalties and interest have a number of different options to contest and appeal those assessments. One of those options includes bringing a case to the United States Tax Court (Tax Court). Here are some Tax Court practice tips for taxpayers:

1. Know What Tax Court Is

Congress created the Tax Court as an independent judicial authority for taxpayers disputing certain Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determinations. Tax court is not controlled by or connected to the IRS even though the Tax Court’s authority, or jurisdiction, is limited to resolving taxpayer issues with the IRS. Similar to other Federal courts in the U.S., it is a court of record and records are made of all proceedings.

To initiate a case, a taxpayer files a petition with the Tax Court. Once proceedings begin, the taxpayer is then referred to as the “petitioner” and the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue is referred to as the “respondent.”

2. Understand How the U.S. Tax Court Operates

Tax Court operates on a calendar basis with its 19 presidentially appointed judges traveling the nation to conduct trials in a number of different cities. The judges themselves have expertise in matters of U.S. taxation and are qualified to apply U.S. tax law. There are no juries at these trials and the matter is tried by one judge. After the trial, a report is issued by that judge who sets forth the findings of fact and an opinion. The case is then closed based on the judge’s opinion.

3. Access Helpful Tools Specifically Created for Taxpayers by the Tax Court

The Tax Court website can be very helpful and provides a number of resources.  Recently, the Tax Court created a series of videos to educate taxpayers on Tax Court procedures and rules. The video series covers the following:

  • An overview of the U.S. Tax Court
  • Understanding the Process
  • An Introduction to the Unites States Tax Court
  • Filing the Petition
  • Pretrial Matters
  • Calendar Call and the Trial
  • Post-Trial Proceedings

The Tax Court website also offers a “Taxpayer Information” web page, which is structured into four sections and reads like an extensive frequently asked questions resource. The Taxpayer Information resource contains a glossary and links to Tax Court Rules and is very helpful.

4. Be Aware of Options for Taxpayers with Smaller Amounts in Dispute (under $50,000)

When the amounts are under $50,000 or the tax matter is less complex, taxpayers may consider representing themselves. It may be more cost-efficient and even more time-efficient in some cases.

For cases not in excess of $50,000, the taxpayer also has the option to choose to have the case conducted under the “small tax case” procedures. These procedures are simpler and less formal than those for regular cases. They are typically speedier too. This choice is made when the taxpayer files their petition with the Tax Court. However, and importantly, a small tax case may not be appealed to a Court of Appeals by the IRS or the taxpayer.

Low-income taxpayers should also be aware that low-income tax clinics exist in almost every U.S. state as well as the District of Columbia. These clinics offer free or reduced fee tax and tax representation services to taxpayers with incomes below certain thresholds and based on family size.

5. Representation Considerations When the Amount in Controversy Exceeds $50,000 or the Issue Is Complex

When the amount in controversy before the U.S. Tax Court is large or if the tax matter is complex, taxpayers may wish to seek seasoned representation from a tax professional, such as a tax attorney admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court.

While the Tax Court provides many resources for self-representation, the Internal Revenue Code and its accompanying regulations and procedures can be overwhelming. The IRS assigns attorneys from their Office of Chief Counsel to represent them who are well versed in both tax law and the rules and procedures of Tax Court. (Tax Court has just under 350 rules, which are updated and changed on a somewhat frequent basis.)

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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