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7 tips for negotiating with the IRS

3 min read

Modern Money

This guest post is written by Jim Camp, CEO of Camp Negotiation Systems, who has trained and coached over 100,000 people through thousands of negotiations in more than 500 organizations. He is founder of J. Camp University, which offers credentialed negotiation courses to organizations and individuals. His best-selling book, “Start with No,” published by Crown Business, has been translated into 12 languages. Find out more at

It’s not uncommon to find yourself at odds with the IRS. Maybe you failed to file a return last year, or maybe you lost your job or had a health problem that drained your savings, and now you’re worried you won’t be able to pay your taxes in full.

Don’t despair. The IRS has set up a number of channels for people to pay what they can, when they can. But you can improve your chances of getting a better deal for yourself by following these seven tips:

  • Do your homework. Gather every bit of information that might be relevant to your situation. Spend time on the Internet, including the IRS website, to find strategies, precedents and tips. Know your rights and your obligations. Compile careful notes.
  • Schedule face time. When you call the IRS, don’t talk to the first agent who comes on the line. Make an appointment to meet with an agent, face to face, in your area. Don’t answer questions over the phone. Talking in person gives you an advantage.
  • Be a blank slate. The key to success is emotional control. Emotions such as fear, anger and neediness are deal-killers. Get into a calm state in which you are fully in the present and unconcerned. Don’t look back with remorse at how you got into this situation; don’t look forward with hope or dread. Keep your voice low and your talking speed slow.
  • Keep the needs of the IRS in mind. You heard me right. If the IRS didn’t need your cooperation, this agent wouldn’t be talking to you. Instead of thinking about what you can get out of this deal, reframe your objectives in terms of how you might help the IRS fulfill their needs. For example, your mission and purpose might be to work out a payment plan that best assures the IRS will get paid in a timely manner.
  • Shut up and take notes. The agent will want you to spill the beans. Try to answer all questions with questions of your own, ones that start with interrogatives such as “What,” “Why,” or ” How.” This way, you can steer the dialogue and find out more about your options.
  • Never make a promise or agree to a compromise at the start. The IRS wants you to commit to a plan from the get-go. Instead, you want the IRS to commit to a plan that serves their interests, which is to serve yours. Save all agreements for the end.
  • Do not look for closure. If you start thinking about the solution to this problem or the way out, you will no longer be listening, taking notes and in the present. Stay focused on the agent’s language and on getting him or her to talk and reveal the position of the IRS regarding your specific situation.