What is the Freedom of Information Act?

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Government agencies give you access to records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Since the IRS is a government agency, you may request records from them. What’s the goal in doing this?  Click here to read or watch more IRS Help resources.

When you are questioning an audit or tax debt, the FOIA can be particularly helpful, especially in determining how and when your problems began. You’ll find records of taxes assessed to you, accumulated interest and penalties, and notes, computations, and opinions formed by IRS agents.

When requesting for the records, it needs to be in writing and you must include these:

  • Submit the request under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Identify the specific records you are requesting.
  • Your name, address, and a copy of your driver’s license must be attached.
  • The fees that apply will be shouldered by you.

Specify the document format you want and the maximum amount that you are willing to pay, as well as your number in case they want to contact you.

The request must be mailed to the IRS Disclosure Office that is in charge of your records. The roster of IRS Disclosure Offices may be downloaded from the IRS’s FOIA main page via the Internet. You must keep a copy of the request for your records.

If you have a deadline to catch, you’ll need to request the information early. The IRS may not honor your request for 30 days. When it does reply, you may only receive a letter telling you that they need an extension to gather the information. Proving a “compelling need” for the information may speed it up. Information regarding the “compelling need” categorization can be found on the IRS’s Guide to the Freedom of Information Act.

Information that the IRS thinks you are not entitled to will be withheld. There are 9 exemptions and three exclusions that allow the IRS to withhold information, as specified in the FOIA. You can appeal to the FOIA Appeals Office if some parts of the documents you received are blacked out and you think that the information should be yours. You may not get the information you are looking for before you need it, though, because the Appeals Office is way behind in their cases.

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