It's Not A Tax Cut, But...

Come this time of year, a tax bill can only mean trouble, right? Not if it's the Taxpayer Bill of Rights II. Although the measure was vetoed last year when it got tangled up in the Republicans' balanced-budget package, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin liked it. So he ordered Internal Revenue Service lawyers to scour the bill for proposals he could adopt without legislation. In January, Treasury and the IRS announced a bunch of administrative actions, including some that could help small companies.

A few examples:

-- Businesses caught in an audit will soon get speedier appeals. Suppose the IRS insists that certain workers are really employees--not the independent contractors you've claimed. Under a rule to be put into effect shortly, you can appeal that issue without waiting for the completed audit. That could settle key questions sooner and at less expense. It might even make the IRS drop the rest of the audit.

-- The IRS taxpayer ombudsman now has more clout to settle disputes between taxpayers and tax collectors. "Problem resolution officers" in IRS district offices can order immediate refunds for taxpayers facing severe hardships or temporarily stop collection orders for back taxes on a disputed bill.

The Treasury also gave these officials a more potent weapon: If the IRS is ordered to cease action against a taxpayer, only three top IRS officials can overrule the order.

-- Form 941, the quarterly income- and payroll-tax withholding report, can now be filed via modem rather than on paper or magnetic tape. For additional information on electronic filing, call the IRS help line at 901 546-2690.

O.K. It's not a tax cut. But the new rules should make dealing with the tax collector a little less dreadful.

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