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by Abigail Van Buren

You Can Run, but You Can't Hide From the IRS

DEAR ABBY: Will you please answer this question: What happens to someone who does not file an income tax return?

I say the consequences are serious, but my friend Katie doesn't think so. A dinner rests on your answer. -- DOROTHY MACKENZIE, MONTEREY, CALIF.

DEAR DOROTHY: Katie owes you a dinner. I called Mary E. McGuire, EA, president of the National Association of Enrolled Agents (tax experts), who explained:

"When the IRS determines that someone has failed to file a tax return, that person is sent a reminder to file one. If the request is ignored, the IRS will take the information they have and prepare a Substitute for Return (SFR).

"The taxpayer is then billed for the amount shown on the SFR, plus interest and penalties dating from the time the return should have been filed. These penalties and interest accumulate until the tax debt is paid.

"If the bill is ignored, the delinquent taxpayer's salary will be garnisheed and a lien will be placed on his or her property.

"If it's proven that the individual is unable to pay the tax, the IRS may mark the case 'uncollectible.' However, should the IRS learn that the taxpayer has become able to pay the delinquent taxes, they'll be back on your doorstep again.

"Although a few people have been sent to jail for failure to pay, the IRS usually tries to work with taxpayers to resolve the problem."

My advice to people who may be tempted to ignore their tax returns: Resist the temptation and pay the tax when it is due. If you can't pay it all in one lump sum, in most cases the IRS will set up a schedule of payments to help you.