experience as an attorney who provides advice on taxes
for freelance writers is that they frequently learn
the expensive way that the IRS slaps stiff penalties
on tardy taxpayers who miss the deadlines for filing
returns or making payments. To get the feds to waive a
penalty, you have to convince them that the delay was
"due to reasonable cause and not due to willful
tax enforcers have long-standing guidelines on what
this means. Though the agency tells its examiners to
judge each case by its own facts, there are certain
circumstances that will generally excuse a late filing
So what cause is reasonable? Here are some IRS
examples of generally acceptable excuses.
Records not available: For reasons beyond the
taxpayer's control, records necessary to compute the
tax were not obtainable.
Late delivery: While the taxpayer mailed the
return or payment in time to reach the IRS by the
deadline, through no fault of his, it was delivered
Bad IRS information: The taxpayer failed to timely
file the return or pay the tax after receiving
erroneous information from an IRS employee; or the
necessary forms and instructions were not provided by
the IRS in time, despite a timely request.
Records destroyed: The taxpayer's residence, place
of business or business records were destroyed due to
a fire, other casualty, or civil disturbance.
Death: The death or serious illness of the
taxpayer or a member of his or her immediate family
occurred. Where the taxpayer is a corporation, estate,
trust or the like, the individual affected must be the
person who has sole responsibility for executing the
return or making the deposit or payment, or is a
member of that person's immediate family.
Absence: The taxpayer is unavoidably absent.
Again, in the case of a corporation, estate, trust,
etc., the absent person must have had sole
responsibility for executing the return or making the
deposit or payment.
fumble: The taxpayer can prove that he personally
visited an IRS office before the filing date to get
information or aid to make out the return and, through
no fault of his own, was unable to meet with an IRS
How can you prove that you were there and did not
see someone? Presumably, you do so by the testimony of
the person you did not see. This tactic is what the
lawyers call "proving a negative." I do not recommend
it. Death or serious injury is more persuasive.
advice from a good source: The taxpayer relied on the
incorrect advice of a competent tax professional, used
normal prudence in determining whether further advice
was needed and, as a result, came to the conclusion
that a return was not required.
Is there reasonable cause that excuses a late-filing
penalty where a taxpayer relies on an attorney or
accountant to make a timely filing? No, according to a
decision by the Supreme Court.
justices unanimously concluded that the taxpayer is
stuck with the penalty, even when an attorney causes
the delay. Congress chose to place the burden of
complying with filing deadlines on the taxpayer,
not on an attorney or accountant or some other agent
or employee of the taxpayer. "One need not be a tax
expert to know that returns have fixed filing dates
and that taxes must be paid when they become due," the
high court pointed out.
Julian Block is a syndicated columnist, attorney
and former IRS investigator who has been cited by the New York Times as "a
leading tax professional" and by the Wall Street Journal as an "accomplished
writer on taxes." His "Tax Tips for Freelance
Writers, Photographers and Artists" explains strategies to reduce taxes for
this year and even gain a head start for future years. Send $9.95 for an
e-mailed copy or $14.95 (in the US) for a postpaid copy to:
3 Washington Square, #1-G
Larchmont, NY 10538-2032
E-mail Julian at