If You Move, How Will the IRS Know Where to Find You?

By George W. Connelly

I suspect that the answer of most readers will be “why would I want the IRS to find me in any event?” In fact, I can recall one client who actually asked me to have him removed from what he described as “the IRS mailing list.”

Believe it or not, while it’s always nice to be left alone, there are situations where it is important that the IRS have your correct address. For instance, what if there’s a refund you’re due, and the IRS is about to send you a check? Similarly, if you are in an audit or owe the IRS money, there are a variety of notices that the Internal Revenue Code requires the IRS to send to your “last known address,” and if it sends them to that address, but you do not receive them, you will miss the opportunity to respond, as the law does not require that you actually receive the documents for them to be effective.

Prior to 1988, nothing short of an affirmative, written statement to the IRS that your address had changed was satisfactory. During that year, in the case of Barbara Abeles v. Commissioner, 91 T.C. 1019 (1988), the United States Tax Court held that where the Taxpayer had filed a return showing a new address, the IRS should search its computer system for that address before sending the Taxpayer critical correspondence such as a Notice of Deficiency, determining an additional amount of tax and giving the Taxpayer 90 days to file a Tax Court Petition. Since that time, the validity of any number of other IRS letters – such as a Final Notice of Intent to Levy or a Notice of the Filing of Federal Tax Lien, both of which give rise to the right to request a Collection Due Process Hearing – similarly depend on having been sent to the Taxpayer’s last known address. Most IRS correspondence is not routinely forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service to a new address, and in this regard certified mailings are returned to the IRS if they are not claimed. These documents contemplate that the IRS will send them by certified mail, but there is no requirement for the IRS to secure a return receipt card, and the way the law has been interpreted, there is no requirement that the Taxpayer receive them (which is a good reason why Taxpayers should never decline to accept a certified mail package from the Internal Revenue Service).

The best approach is to be on the safest side, and always file a Form 8822, Change of Address when you move, and send that to the IRS by certified mail, to insure there is no confusion. This is particularly important if you have moved since filing your last return. But even in that situation, there is hope: recently, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2010-16, in which it announced that it will automatically update a Taxpayer’s address of record based on a new address that the Taxpayer provides to the United States Postal Service, so long as it is retained in the USPS’s National Change of Address Database. However, it is not clear how long it takes for that database to be updated and “dumped” into the IRS’ system, so this writer recommends that you take the extra step and send the Form 8822, rather than rely on the Government data bases talking to one another.

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