What is the Taxpayer Advocate Service and can it help me?

African-American volunteer for the Taxpayer Advocate Service sitting at a desk advising a young white couple on their tax issue with the IRS.Image: African-American volunteer for the Taxpayer Advocate Service sitting at a desk advising a young white couple on their tax issue with the IRS.

In a Nutshell

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that offers free assistance to taxpayers who are having trouble resolving problems with the IRS on their own. It also works to identify and fix systemic problems that can impact many taxpayers.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and reviewed by Rachel Weatherly, tax product specialist with Credit Karma.

When you’re trying to resolve an issue with the IRS, you can feel stressed, frustrated and alone.

You may feel you need expert help to navigate the complexities of dealing with the IRS. It generally costs money to hire a tax professional who knows the ins and outs of the tax code and how the IRS works. But if you qualify for assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS, you may be able to get that expert help for free.

Read on to learn about the Taxpayer Advocate Service and how it can help eligible taxpayers deal with challenging IRS issues.

What is the Taxpayer Advocate Service?

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS. TAS works to protect taxpayer rights and help individuals, business owners and exempt organizations resolve tax-related issues that they haven’t been able to resolve on their own through normal IRS channels. The TAS also identifies and offers solutions for larger systemic problems that may be affecting many taxpayers.

The TAS is free. If you qualify for TAS help, the organization will assign you an experienced tax advocate. The advocate can learn the details of your situation, review your account, research the applicable laws, argue on your behalf, and request and submit the proper documentation to get your issue properly resolved.

Of course, you should do your best to address your problems with the IRS on your own before contacting the TAS.

What is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights?

Who qualifies for TAS assistance?

If you have an income tax issue that you haven’t been able to resolve on your own through regular IRS channels, the TAS may be able to help you. It can work on your behalf if you have a lingering problem that is causing you financial difficulty or if you’re facing the threat of immediate adverse action by the IRS. A TAS advocate may be able to mediate on your behalf with the federal tax agency.

The TAS may accept your case if …

  • You’re facing a time-sensitive financial hardship due to the tax situation.
  • You’re working with multiple IRS units and need help dealing with all the moving parts.
  • The IRS isn’t responding to you or working with you in a timely manner.
  • The IRS is threatening immediate adverse action against you.
  • You have a unique situation and the IRS isn’t recognizing the specifics of the situation.
  • Your case is referred to the TAS by a congressional office.

The TAS tends to offer tax assistance to people who are most in need of help. Harvey Bezozi, a certified public accountant and president of Your Financial Wizard, has worked with the TAS to help resolve clients’ issues.

“Generally, they’re really good for any sort of emergency where there’s a major hardship that’s about to happen,” he says.

Your TAS advocate may work with you to collect the proper documentation and argue your case with an IRS agent, or help coordinate and expedite the processing of your case with one or more IRS units.

Bezozi offers a hypothetical example.

“Say you have proof that you mailed a payment-plan payment with certified mail, but when you call the IRS, they say they didn’t receive the payment,” he says.

Failing to make payments on time could lead to defaulting on a payment plan and having to pay a reinstatement fee. But what if every time you call the IRS, the representative says a payment wasn’t made to your account.

“If you can show the proof to the TAS, it could dig through the red tape and help resolve the issue for you,” says Bezozi.

Plus, TAS may request that the IRS suspend certain actions, such as filing a tax lien or levies, while it reviews your request for help.

When the TAS can’t help you

Take note: The TAS won’t take on every case.

“[Some taxpayers] think that the Taxpayer Advocate Service is some magical place where you go, and they fix things,” says Bezozi. “As long as the IRS is following the rules and regulations and there isn’t a hardship [for you], there may not be anything they can do.”

For example, if you seek the organization’s help because you haven’t received your refund as quickly as you expect, but you don’t have an immediate need for the money, the TAS may simply refer your case to the appropriate IRS unit.

On the other hand, if you haven’t received your refund in a timely manner, owe the IRS back taxes (for less than the refund amount), and are receiving collection notices, the TAS might be able to coordinate communication between IRS units to expedite the payment of the back taxes and get the remainder of your refund sent to you.

Or, for example, if you haven’t received your refund because the IRS is reviewing your tax return and you need the money for an emergency vehicle repair in order to keep your job, the TAS might be able to help coordinate and speed up the review process.

The TAS provides more examples on its website of the kinds of cases it accepts and success stories of helping taxpayers, including getting IRS penalties removed and getting a delayed tax refund with interest.

How to request TAS assistance

Here’s how to ask for help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

  • Call the national office. Contact the TAS at 1-877-777-4778.
  • Visit or call a local office. Each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific and Caribbean U.S. territories all have at least one local TAS office that you can call or visit. Use the interactive tool on the TSA website to find your local TAS office.
  • Go the paper route. You can fill out Form 911 Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance and mail or fax it to your local TAS office. “The form is pretty self-explanatory but very detailed,” says Bezozi. Fill out every required section and write a clear and concise explanation of the issue before submitting the form. There are instructions on the third and fourth pages of the form.

Working with your taxpayer advocate

If you qualify for help, the TAS will assign you a dedicated advocate who will help you resolve your problem.

Your advocate will provide you with their name, phone number and employee number, and will acknowledge your communications in a timely manner. They’ll review your issue with independence and impartiality, and keep you updated on their progress, including anticipated timelines for actions. And they’ll advise you on how to avoid federal tax problems in the future.

In order to help your advocate give you the best possible support, you’ll need to provide some information too, including the following:

  • Your name, address and Social Security number (or employer identification number)
  • A phone number and best times to call
  • The year and type of tax returns at issue
  • A description of your problem
  • How you’ve tried to resolve it on your own
  • How the problem is causing a hardship
  • Any office you’ve already contacted at the IRS

Bottom line

The TAS says it has helped more than 200,000 taxpayers per year resolve problems with the IRS in recent years.

You should generally follow regular processes and try to work with the IRS to resolve tax-related problems or questions. But if the issue persists and you believe that the IRS isn’t treating you fairly, if you’re struggling to get different IRS units to work together on your case, or if you think your taxpayer rights are being violated, the Taxpayer Assistance Service might be able to help.

Rachel Weatherly is a tax product specialist with Credit Karma. She studied accounting and finance at Western Carolina University and has also worked as a tax analyst. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Louis DeNicola is a personal finance writer and has written for American Express, Discover and Nova Credit. In addition to being a contributing writer at Credit Karma, you can find his work on Business Insider, Cheapi… Read more.