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Publication 550

Chapter 5
How To Get Tax Help(p77)

You can get help with unresolved tax issues, order free publications and forms, ask tax questions, and get information from the IRS in several ways. By selecting the method that is best for you, you will have quick and easy access to tax help.

Contacting your Taxpayer Advocate.(p77)

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS. We help taxpayers who are experiencing economic harm, such as not being able to provide necessities like housing, transportation, or food; taxpayers who are seeking help in resolving tax problems with the IRS; and those who believe that an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should. Here are seven things every taxpayer should know about TAS:
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs).(p77)
The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program serves individuals who have a problem with the IRS and whose income is below a certain level. LITCs are independent from the IRS. Most LITCs can provide representation before the IRS or in court on audits, tax collection disputes, and other issues for free or a small fee. If an individual's native language is not English, some clinics can provide multilingual information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities. For more information, see Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List. This publication is available at, by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676), or at your local IRS office.

Free tax services.(p77)

Publication 910, IRS Guide to Free Tax Services, is your guide to IRS services and resources. Learn about free tax information from the IRS, including publications, services, and education and assistance programs. The publication also has an index of over 100 TeleTax topics (recorded tax information) you can listen to on the telephone. The majority of the information and services listed in this publication are available to you free of charge. If there is a fee associated with a resource or service, it is listed in the publication.
Accessible versions of IRS published products are available on request in a variety of alternative formats for people with disabilities.

Free help with your return.(p77)

Free help in preparing your return is available nationwide from IRS-trained volunteers. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is designed to help low-income taxpayers and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program is designed to assist taxpayers age 60 and older with their tax returns. Many VITA sites offer free electronic filing and all volunteers will let you know about credits and deductions you may be entitled to claim. To find the nearest VITA or TCE site, call 1-800-829-1040.
As part of the TCE program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program. To find the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit AARP's website at
For more information on these programs, go to and enter keyword "VITA" in the upper right-hand corner.
Internet. You can access the IRS website at 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to:
  • E-file your return. Find out about commercial tax preparation and e-file services available free to eligible taxpayers.
  • Check the status of your 2010 refund. Go to and click on Where's My Refund. Wait at least 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed return, or 3 to 4 weeks after mailing a paper return. If you filed Form 8379 with your return, wait 14 weeks (11 weeks if you filed electronically). Have your 2010 tax return available so you can provide your social security number, your filing status, and the exact whole dollar amount of your refund.
  • Download forms, including talking tax forms, instructions, and publications.
  • Order IRS products online.
  • Research your tax questions online.
  • Search publications online by topic or keyword.
  • Use the online Internal Revenue Code, regulations, or other official guidance.
  • View Internal Revenue Bulletins (IRBs) published in the last few years.
  • Figure your withholding allowances using the withholding calculator online at
  • Determine if Form 6251 must be filed by using our Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Assistant.
  • Sign up to receive local and national tax news by email.
  • Get information on starting and operating a small business.
Phone. Many services are available by phone.  
  • Ordering forms, instructions, and publications. Call 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676) to order current-year forms, instructions, and publications, and prior-year forms and instructions. You should receive your order within 10 days.
  • Asking tax questions. Call the IRS with your tax questions at 1-800-829-1040.
  • Solving problems. You can get face-to-face help solving tax problems every business day in IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers. An employee can explain IRS letters, request adjustments to your account, or help you set up a payment plan. Call your local Taxpayer Assistance Center for an appointment. To find the number, go to or look in the phone book under United States Government, Internal Revenue Service.
  • TTY/TDD equipment. If you have access to TTY/TDD equipment, call 1-800-829-4059 to ask tax questions or to order forms and publications.
  • TeleTax topics. Call 1-800-829-4477 to listen to pre-recorded messages covering various tax topics.
  • Refund information. To check the status of your 2010 refund, call 1-800-829-1954 or 1-800-829-4477 (automated refund information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Wait at least 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed return, or 3 to 4 weeks after mailing a paper return. If you filed Form 8379 with your return, wait 14 weeks (11 weeks if you filed electronically). Have your 2010 tax return available so you can provide your social security number, your filing status, and the exact whole dollar amount of your refund. If you check the status of your refund and are not given the date it will be issued, please wait until the next week before checking back.
  • Other refund information. To check the status of a prior-year refund or amended return refund, call 1-800-829-1040.
Evaluating the quality of our telephone services. To ensure IRS representatives give accurate, courteous, and professional answers, we use several methods to evaluate the quality of our telephone services. One method is for a second IRS representative to listen in on or record random telephone calls. Another is to ask some callers to complete a short survey at the end of the call.
Walk In
Walk-in. Many products and services are available on a walk-in basis. 
  • Products. You can walk in to many post offices, libraries, and IRS offices to pick up certain forms, instructions, and publications. Some IRS offices, libraries, grocery stores, copy centers, city and county government offices, credit unions, and office supply stores have a collection of products available to print from a CD or photocopy from reproducible proofs. Also, some IRS offices and libraries have the Internal Revenue Code, regulations, Internal Revenue Bulletins, and Cumulative Bulletins available for research purposes.
  • Services. You can walk in to your local Taxpayer Assistance Center every business day for personal, face-to-face tax help. An employee can explain IRS letters, request adjustments to your tax account, or help you set up a payment plan. If you need to resolve a tax problem, have questions about how the tax law applies to your individual tax return, or you are more comfortable talking with someone in person, visit your local Taxpayer Assistance Center where you can spread out your records and talk with an IRS representative face-to-face. No appointment is necessary—just walk in. If you prefer, you can call your local Center and leave a message requesting an appointment to resolve a tax account issue. A representative will call you back within 2 business days to schedule an in-person appointment at your convenience. If you have an ongoing, complex tax account problem or a special need, such as a disability, an appointment can be requested. All other issues will be handled without an appointment. To find the number of your local office, go to or look in the phone book under United States Government, Internal Revenue Service.
Due date
Mail. You can send your order for forms, instructions, and publications to the address below. You should receive a response within 10 days after your request is received.

Internal Revenue Service 
1201 N. Mitsubishi Motorway 
Bloomington, IL 61705-6613

DVD for tax products. You can order Publication 1796, IRS Tax Products DVD, and obtain:
  • Current-year forms, instructions, and publications.
  • Prior-year forms, instructions, and publications.
  • Tax Map: an electronic research tool and finding aid.
  • Tax law frequently asked questions.
  • Tax Topics from the IRS telephone response system.
  • Internal Revenue Code—Title 26 of the U.S. Code.
  • Fill-in, print, and save features for most tax forms.
  • Internal Revenue Bulletins.
  • Toll-free and email technical support.
  • Two releases during the year. 
    – The first release will ship the beginning of January 2011. 
    – The final release will ship the beginning of March 2011.
Purchase the DVD from National Technical Information Service (NTIS) at for $30 (no handling fee) or call 1-877-233-6767 toll free to buy the DVD for $30 (plus a $6 handling fee).



Accrual method:(p79)

An accounting method under which you report your income when you earn it, whether or not you have received it. You generally deduct your expenses when you incur a liability for them, rather than when you pay them.

At-risk rules:(p79)

Rules that limit the amount of loss you may deduct to the amount you risk losing in the activity.


Basis is the amount of your investment in property for tax purposes. The basis of property you buy is usually the cost. Basis is used to figure gain or loss on the sale or disposition of investment property.

Below-market loan:(p79)

A demand loan (defined later) on which interest is payable at a rate below the applicable federal rate, or a term loan where the amount loaned is more than the present value of all payments due under the loan.


An option that entitles the purchaser to buy, at any time before a specified future date, property such as a stated number of shares of stock at a specified price.

Cash method:(p79)

An accounting method under which you report your income in the year in which you actually or constructively receive it. You generally deduct your expenses in the year you pay them.

Commodities trader:(p79)

A person who is actively engaged in trading section 1256 contracts and is registered with a domestic board of trade designated as a contract market by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

Commodity future:(p79)

A contract made on a commodity exchange, calling for the sale or purchase of a fixed amount of a commodity at a future date for a fixed price.

Conversion transaction:(p79)

Any transaction that you entered into after April 30, 1993, that meets both of these tests.
  1. Substantially all of your expected return from the transaction is due to the time value of your net investment.
  2. The transaction is one of the following.
    1. A straddle, including any set of offsetting positions on stock.
    2. Any transaction in which you acquire property (whether or not actively traded) at substantially the same time that you contract to sell the same property or substantially identical property at a price set in the contract.
    3. Any other transaction that is marketed or sold as producing capital gains from a transaction described in (1).

Demand loan:(p79)

A loan payable in full at any time upon demand by the lender.


A distribution of money or other property made by a corporation to its shareholders out of its earnings and profits.

Equity option:(p79)

Any option:

Fair market value:(p79)

The price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.

Forgone interest:(p79)

The amount of interest that would be payable for any period if interest accrued at the applicable federal rate and was payable annually on December 31, minus any interest payable on the loan for that period.

Forward contract:(p79)

A contract to deliver a substantially fixed amount of property (including cash) for a substantially fixed price.

Futures contract:(p79)

An exchange-traded contract to buy or sell a specified commodity or financial instrument at a specified price at a specified future date. See also Commodity future.

Gift loan:(p79)

Any below-market loan where the forgone interest is in the nature of a gift.


Compensation for the use or forbearance of money.

Investment interest:(p79)

The interest you paid or accrued on money you borrowed that is allocable to property held for investment.

Limited partner:(p79)

A partner whose participation in partnership activities is restricted, and whose personal liability for partnership debts is limited to the amount of money or other property that he or she contributed or may have to contribute.

Listed option:(p79)

Any option that is traded on, or subject to the rules of, a qualified board or exchange.

Marked to market rule:(p79)

The treatment of each section 1256 contract (defined later) held by a taxpayer at the close of the year as if it were sold for its fair market value on the last business day of the year.

Market discount:(p79)

The stated redemption price of a bond at maturity minus your basis in the bond immediately after you acquire it. Market discount arises when the value of a debt obligation decreases after its issue date.

Market discount bond:(p79)

Any bond having market discount except:

Mutual fund:(p79)

A mutual fund is a regulated investment company generally created by "pooling" funds of investors to allow them to take advantage of diversity of investments and professional management.


A person who receives, in his or her name, income that actually belongs to someone else.

Nonequity option:(p79)

Any listed option that is not an equity option, such as debt options, commodity futures options, currency options, and broad-based stock index options.

Options dealer:(p79)

Any person registered with an appropriate national securities exchange as a market maker or specialist in listed options.

Original issue discount (OID):(p79)

The amount by which the stated redemption price at maturity of a debt instrument is more than its issue price.

Passive activity:(p79)

An activity involving the conduct of a trade or business in which you do not materially participate and any rental activity. However, the rental of real estate is not a passive activity if both of the following are true.

Portfolio income:(p79)

Gross income from interest, dividends, annuities, or royalties that is not derived in the ordinary course of a trade or business. It includes gains from the sale or trade of property (other than an interest in a passive activity) producing portfolio income or held for investment.


The amount by which your cost or other basis in a bond right after you get it is more than the total of all amounts payable on the bond after you get it (other than payments of qualified stated interest).

Private activity bond:(p79)

A bond that is part of a state or local government bond issue of which:
  1. More than 10% of the proceeds are to be used for a private business use, and
  2. More than 10% of the payment of the principal or interest is:
    1. Secured by an interest in property to be used for a private business use (or payments for the property), or
    2. Derived from payments for property (or borrowed money) used for a private business use.


An option that entitles the purchaser to sell, at any time before a specified future date, property such as a stated number of shares of stock at a specified price.

Real estate mortgage investment conduit (REMIC):(p80)

An entity that is formed for the purpose of holding a fixed pool of mortgages secured by interests in real property, with multiple classes of interests held by investors. These interests may be either regular or residual.

Regulated futures contract:(p80)

A section 1256 contract that:

Restricted stock:(p80)

Stock you get for services you perform that is nontransferable and is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture.

Section 1256 contract:(p80)

For tax years beginning after July 21, 2010, a section 1256 contract does not include certain swaps as listed in Exceptions under Section 1256 Contracts Marked to Market in chapter 4.

Securities futures contract:(p80)

A contract of sale for future delivery of a single security or of a narrow-based security index.

Short sale:(p80)

The sale of property that you generally do not own. You borrow the property to deliver to a buyer and, at a later date, you buy substantially identical property and deliver it to the lender.


Generally, a set of offsetting positions on personal property. A straddle may consist of a purchased option to buy and a purchased option to sell on the same number of shares of the security, with the same exercise price and period.

Stripped preferred stock:(p80)

Stock that meets the following tests.
  1. There has been a separation in ownership between the stock and any dividend on the stock that has not become payable.
  2. The stock:
    1. Is limited and preferred as to dividends,
    2. Does not participate in corporate growth to any significant extent, and
    3. Has a fixed redemption price.

Term loan:(p80)

Any loan that is not a demand loan.

Wash sale:(p80)

A sale of stock or securities at a loss within 30 days before or after you buy or acquire in a fully taxable trade, or acquire a contract or option to buy, substantially identical stock or securities.