How Much Should I Offer in Compromise to the IRS?Tax Relief
So you’ve read up a bit on what an offer in compromise is and now you’re ready to submit one to the IRS.
But how much should you offer in compromise to the IRS?
As a CPA, I’m here to answer this exact question for you.
The good news is that there is in fact one right answer to this question, and it’s this: the amount of your offer must be greater than your reasonable collection potential.
So in this article I will primarily focus on how to calculate your reasonable collection potential and then share some final tips on offer in compromise calculations at the end.
Important: This article describes how to calculate the most common type of offer in compromise, the doubt as to collectibility (DATC) offer in compromise. For more information on the other kinds of offers in compromise — doubt as to liability and effective tax administration — read this article.
Do you want professional assistance with your offer in compromise? My name is Logan Allec. I’m a CPA with a Masters Degree in Taxation. My team and I can get you the relief from the IRS that you deserve. If you’d like to work together, shoot me an email at [email protected]
Calculating Your Reasonable Collection Potential (RCP)
Most of the work required in submitting a doubt as to collectibility offer in compromise has to do with calculating your reasonable collection potential, which you do on Form 433-A (OIC).
Your reasonable collection potential has two components — the equity component and the income component — and the sum of these two components yields your reasonable collection potential.
I will address each of these below, but first I want to make it very clear that offers in compromise are signed under penalty of perjury, and you can be jailed for falsifying information on your offer.
Don’t try to hide anything or play games by transferring your property to a family member or something like that — when you make your offer, honestly report all income and assets you own.
If you’d like to refer to the IRS’ guidance regarding calculating your reasonable collection potential, refer to Part 5.8.5 of the Internal Revenue Manual.
If you want a basic explanation of how to qualify for an offer in compromise as well as the three different kinds of offers in compromise, watch the video below!
Calculating Your RCP Equity Component
The equity component of your reasonable collection potential has to do with how much equity you have in your assets because the IRS assumes that you should be able to sell your assets, pay off any debts owed on the assets, and pay them the difference (net of selling costs) to settle your tax bill.
Now, when summarized in this fashion, this sounds extremely harsh.
Am I saying that if you owe the IRS $50,000 but you have $60,000 in equity in your home that you will not qualify for an offer in compromise?
No — there is actually more nuance to this calculation.
Below I get into what you need to know.
Cash accounts include but are not limited to:
- Cash on hand
- Checking accounts
- Savings accounts
- Money market accounts
- Certificates of deposit
- Stored value cards
You must include all cash at fair market value, less one month’s worth of allowable living expenses, less up to $1,000 (without your cash amount going below zero).
So if you have $8,000 in cash and your monthly living expenses are $2,000, your includable cash would be $5,000:
$8,000 actual cash
Less: $2,000 living expenses
However, if in the example above you only had $2,500 in actual cash, you would simply report zero (not negative $500) as your includable cash.
For cash accounts, the IRS will typically request three months of statements for wage earners and six months of statements for non-wage earners.
Also, if a withdrawal from an account would trigger a penalty — such as an early withdrawal penalty on a certificate of deposit — the amount of that penalty will reduce your includable cash.
Note that money you submit with the offer in compromise is includable in your cash calculation.
You must include all investments in your equity component.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Investment accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Closely-held stock
- Virtual currency / cryptocurrency
- Safe deposit boxes
Note that while cash accounts are valued at full fair market value for offer in compromise purposes, investment accounts are valued at their quick-sale value of 80% of fair market value.
The tax resulting from the sale of an appreciated asset reduces your includable investment amount, as well as any penalties (for example, an early withdrawal penalty on an IRA).
Any debts secured by the asset that are in a more priority position than a federal tax lien on the asset would likewise reduce the asset value for purposes of calculating your equity component.
Naturally, any costs of sale (such as brokerage commissions) reduce the includable investment amount as well.
Life insurance policy with a cash value is includable in your equity component.
Refer to the table below to determine the amount you must include for your life insurance policy.
|You will retain the policy||Include the cash surrender value of the policy|
|You will sell the policy to help fund your offer||Include the amount you will receive from the sale of the property (net, of course, from any selling expenses, selling penalties, etc.)|
|You will borrow against the policy to help fund the offer||Include the cash loan value less any prior policy loans or automatic premium loans required to keep the contract in force|
Furniture, Fixtures, and Other Personal Effects
While your furniture, fixtures, and other personal effects are includable, the IRS provides (for calendar year 2021) a generous exclusion in this category of $9,790.
Note that this exclusion amount is after the 80% quick-sale valuation, meaning that you can have $12,237 of personal effects and not have to include any of their value toward your equity component.
Tools of the Trade
Tools of the trade include books and tools necessary for your trade, business, or profession.
The IRS likely provides an exclusion for these amounts of $4,890 for calendar year 2021, meaning that you can have up to $6,112 worth of tools of the trade and not have to include any of their value toward your equity component.
Vehicles include motor vehicles (such as cars and trucks), airplanes, and boats.
First, you calculate the 80% quick-sale value of each vehicle.
Then, you deduct any debt secured by the vehicle.
And finally, you exclude $3,450 per car (maximum of one car for single taxpayers and two cars for joint taxpayers).
So by way of example, let’s say you are a single taxpayer and have a car worth $10,000 encumbered by a $2,000 auto loan. Your includable vehicle amount would be $2,550, determined as follows:
$10,000 Fair Market Value
x 80% Quick-Sale Percentage
Equals: $8,000 Quick-Sale Value
Less: $2,000 Auto Loan
Less: $3,450 Exemption
Note that unusual assets such as airplanes and boats may require an appraisal to determine fair market value.
The formula to determine the includable real estate is as follows:
Fair Market Value of Real Estate
x 80% Quick-Sale Percentage
Equals: Quick-Sale Value
Less: Selling Expenses
Less: Property Tax Arrearages
Less: Mortgage and Other Encumbrances
Equals: Includable Amount
Naturally, the crux of this calculation is the top line — the fair market value of the real estate itself.
Now, you can take one of several approaches when it comes to determining the fair market value of a piece of property. Here are examples:
- Use Zillow or Redfin.
- Use the county assessor’s valuation. Note that in some counties the assessor values property at 80%, in which case you would divide the assessor’s valuation by 0.8 to determine the fair market value figure.
- Check comparable sales. Keep in mind unique characteristics of your property, such as its condition. If your property would require a lot of repairs before being sold for an amount similar to the comparable sales in its immediate vicinity, take that into account. Having a contractor come in to estimate repairs would strengthen your position. Also, keep in mind features of your property that could potentially devalue it significantly.
- Have an appraisal done.
- Use your homeowner’s insurance policy’s replacement value. Now, this option may not work in your favor because oftentimes this will result in a very high value, especially if construction costs are high in your area.
- Current sales contract.
Note that while equity in real estate is generally included as described above, there are special circumstances that could cause your real estate equity to not have to be included. Simply being unable to access your equity without selling is usually not a “special” enough circumstance; there usually has to be some other factor(s) involved. Two examples are given below.
- You have equity in your home, but due to poor credit or some other factor you cannot access this equity without selling your home. However, your child has a disability and is enrolled in a special program at the elementary school in your district. There are no other living accommodations that you can afford in the area.
- You have equity in your home, but due to poor credit or some other factor you cannot access this equity without selling your home. However, the costs of moving would exceed the amount of equity you have in your home.
If you believe circumstances such as those described above reasonably apply to you, consider filing your offer as “doubt as to collectibility with special circumstances” (DATSC) if you are unable to pay your tax liability in full or possibly as an effective tax administration offer in compromise if you are able to pay your tax liability in full.
Note that the Internal Revenue Manual specifically states that if your offer in compromise is rejected or withdrawn based on equity in an asset that you are not able to liquidate or borrow against, the offer examiner or offer specialist handling your offer should determine an alternative resolution for your situation such as installment agreement, currently not collectible status, Automated Collection System Support, or field assignment.
Other Valuable Items
Other valuable items include jewelry, antiques, and artwork. These can likewise be valued at 80% quick-sale value.
And of course, for these purposes, I’m referring to expensive jewelry and art — not cheap costume jewelry or mass-produced prints.
Don’t try to hide anything; the IRS will have no problems reviewing homeowners or renters insurance policies and riders in order to identify such items.
It is generally in your best interest to hire a professional to prepare your offer in compromise for you so that you don’t end up offering more than necessary when settling your tax debt with the IRS. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] if you’d like to have a free conversation about your tax situation.
Calculating Your RCP Income Component
The income component is your monthly excess income (as determined by IRS rules and standards, not your actual monthly cash flow) multiplied by a future income multiplier of either 12 or 24 months (I will discuss later when 12 is used and when 24 is used).
Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t have any money left over every month! My income component should be a big, fat zero!”
Unfortunately, the IRS doesn’t view things this way.
While you must include all of your actual income — taxable or non-taxable — as your top-line in your income component calculation, the IRS is quite stringent about what expenses you can claim against this time line in arriving at your final income component for reasonable collection potential purposes.
In fact, the IRS has a set of standard expenses — known as the Collection Financial Standards — that you generally must use in calculating your income component.
The general formula for your monthly excess income is below. The “National Standard Expenses”, “National Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenses”, “Local Standard Expenses for Housing and Utilities”, and “Local Standard Expenses for Transportation” make up the Collection Financial Standards.
Gross Monthly Income
Less: National Standard Expenses
Less: National Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenses
Less: Local Standard Expenses for Housing and Utilities
Less: Local Standard Expenses for Transportation
Less: Other Monthly Expenses
Equals: Monthly Excess Income
Gross Monthly Income
Your gross monthly income is just that — the gross amount of money (taxable and non-taxable) you receive every month. This includes:
- top-line on your paycheck (before taxes and other deductions are taken out)
- unemployment compensation
- worker’s compensation insurance compensation
- alimony and child support
- net monthly business cash flow (this is generally your net income on Schedule C with add-backs for non-cash expenses like depreciation and subtractions for non-deductible cash outlays such as principle payments on loans)
- net monthly rental cash flow (calculated in the same general manner as net monthly business cash flow)
- retirement income such as Social Security income
National Standard Expenses
The national standard expenses are set by the IRS based on your family size. You can take these five expenses no matter what — whether you actually paid this much per category or not.
|Expense||One Person||Two Persons||Three Persons||Four Persons|
|Apparel and Services||$92||$150||$191||$259|
|Personal Care Products and Services||$42||$76||$72||$89|
If you have more than four persons in your household, add to the four-person total allowance $341 per each additional person beyond four.
Can You Take More Than the National Standard Expense?
Now, you can make the argument that a particular person or persons in your household ought to be allotted more than the national standard — but you will have to prove it.
For example, let’s say one member of your household has a particular condition that requires them to consume a special diet and you can show — based on grocery receipts, for example, which you will have to submit as documentation — that this special diet costs more to maintain than the national standard.
You may be successful in arguing that this member of your household should qualify for a higher food expense.
National Out-Of-Pocket Health Care Expenses
The national out-of-pocket health care expenses are likewise set by the IRS and are an even simpler determination than the national standard expenses; they are simply based on the age of members of your household and represent amounts you pay for healthcare in addition to your health insurance premiums.
|65 and Older||$142|
So if there are three members of your household under the age of 65 and one member age 65 or older, your national out-of-pocket health care expenses would be $346 ($68 + $68 + $68 + $142).
And as with the national standard expenses, it does not matter if you actually have out-of-pocket health care expenses; the IRS is giving you these expenses just for breathing.
However, just like with the national standard expenses, if you want to claim more than the standard expenses for a member or members of your household, you must provide documentation for the additional amounts.
Note that amounts paid for elective or cosmetic surgeries generally don’t count for purposes of claiming more than the standard.
Local Standard Expenses For Housing and Utilities
The local standard expenses for housing and utilities are derived at both the state and county levels from the U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey and BLSA data.
These are the expenses that the housing and utilities standard covers:
- Mortgage Payment (including interest) or Rent
- Property taxes
- Heating Oil
- Garbage Collection
- Telephone Service
- Cell Phone Service
- Cable Television Service
- Internet Service
Here are the 2021 standards for Los Angeles County, where I live:
Now, unlike the national standards, the amounts you put on your offer for local standards are equal to the lesser of the amount you actually paid and the amount on the chart for your location.
And similar to national standards, if you can document that you ought to be able to take more than the local standards, you should make that argument.
Local Standard Expenses For Transportation
The local standard expenses for transportation are broken down into three components: public transportation costs, ownership costs, and operating costs.
Interestingly enough, public transportation costs and ownership costs have one standard for the entire nation, while operating costs are determined regionally.
Below are the local standard expenses for transportation for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), where I live. Note that the public transportation costs and ownership costs are the same nationally; only the operating costs are regionally-determined. Note that you can claim all three amounts; owning a vehicle does not exclude you from claiming public transportation amounts as well.
|Public Transportation (Same Nationwide)||$217|
|Ownership Costs, One Car (Same Nationwide)||$533|
|Ownership Costs, Two Cars (Same Nationwide)||$1,066|
|Operating Costs, One Car (MSA-Specific)||$313|
|Operating Costs, Two Cars (MSA-Specific)||$626|
Note that unlike the local housing standard expenses, the local transportation standard expenses are at the region and metropolitan statistical area (MSA) levels rather than at the county level.
For example, the Los Angeles region for the transportation standards includes Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County.
However, some counties in a state do not fall into a specific MSA for which the IRS has separate standards for; in these cases, the taxpayer would simply use the standards for that region.
By way of example, Ventura County here in California doesn’t fall into either of the two specific MSAs in California that the IRS has specific transportation standards for (Los Angeles and San Diego). So taxpayers in Ventura County would simply use the operating costs for the entire West Census Region, which includes New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California.
Why Are Public Transportation and Ownership Standards Called "Local"?
So if the public transportation costs and ownership costs are the same throughout the country, why are they still part of the local standard expenses?
This is because unlike the national standard expenses, you are still required to take the lesser of your actual costs or the standard costs, which makes it a “local” expense.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but this is how the IRS has organized these expenses.
Now let’s talk a bit about the one-car vs. two-car expenses, which as you can see in the table above applies to the ownership costs and operating costs.
First of all, if you’re a single taxpayer, you can only based your expenses on one car (even if you own multiple vehicles).
The two-car standards are only available to married taxpayers. However, the one-car standard must still be considered on a per-car basis.
For example, if your ownership costs for Car A is $400 a month and your ownership costs for Car B is $800 a month, you can’t claim the maximum two-car ownership standard of $1,066 per month; you can claim $400 (your actual expenses) for Car A and $533 (the one-car maximum) for Car B for a total of $933 in monthly ownership costs.
Other Monthly Expenses
Your other monthly expenses are just that — other monthly expenses listed out in Section 7 of the Form 433-A (OIC). These include:
- Health Insurance Premiums
- Court-Ordered Payments (Alimony, Child Support, etc.)
- Child/Dependent Care Payments (Daycare, etc.)
- Life Insurance Premiums
- Taxes (Monthly Cost of Federal Taxes, State Taxes, Local Taxes, Property Taxes, etc.)
- Payments on Secured Debts
Now, the “Other” category is obviously quite interesting. Here are examples of expenses that I’ve seen fly in the “Other” category:
- Employer-Mandated Payroll Deductions
- Accounting and Professional Fees for IRS Representation (yes, my fees would count — it’s right there in Part 5.15.1 of the Internal Revenue Manual, which is referred to in Part 5.8.5 of the Internal Revenue Manual, which is the section covering financial analysis for offer in compromise purposes)
- Disability Insurance for Self-Employed Taxpayers
- Union Dues
- Professional Fees
- Expenses Related to Handicap or Disability
- Expenses Necessary for Family Health and Welfare
- Expenses Necessary for Production of Income
Other Income Considerations
While as a general rule, your current income will be used to determine the income component of your reasonable collection potential, it is possible that unique circumstances could warrant using something other than current income.
Retired debt is the IRS’s term for an expected change in necessary or allowable expenses.
Naturally, if this change results in decreased expenses, you may be able to pay more money toward your tax debt in the future than you can now.
For example, perhaps right now you are making child support payments. But you will no longer have to make these payments in six months.
It’s possible that the IRS would want to adjust the income component of your reasonable collection potential for this expected change.
Note that there is a special exception for car loan payments. The IRS will not consider the first $400 of a loan payment on a vehicle as retired debt.
Unemployment or Underemployment
Obviously if you’re unemployed you are likely generating less household cash flow than you were when you were gainfully employed.
If this is the case, the IRS may very well say that you need to use the level of income expected if you were fully employed.
Future Income Collateral Agreements
A future income collateral agreement can be used to persuade the IRS to accept an offer when the IRS is supposing that the income component you offered is too low.
These agreements basically state that if the taxpayer makes more a certain dollar amount before the statute on collections expires, the taxpayer will remit a portion of each payment to the IRS.
IRS Future Income Examples
Below are examples of situations where you may be permitted to use your current income or, alternatively, the IRS may require you to use some other income amount.
|Your income is expected to increase or decrease OR your current necessary expenses are expected to increase or decrease.||Adjust the amount or number of payments to what is expected during the appropriate number of months.|
|You are a seasonal worker whose income naturally fluctuates during certain parts of the year.||The IRS may require you to use the previous year's annual income or use income averaging to accurately determine your income.|
|You are temporarily or recently unemployed or underemployed.||The income to use depends on the potential of being re-employed. If it can be shown that potential for employment is apparent, then the IRS may require you to use the level of income expected.|
|You are long-term unemployed or underemployed.||The IRS may accept using your current income insofar as there are truly no employment opportunities for you available. Note that the IRS may expect a future income collateral agreement in case your circumstances change.|
|You were long-term unemployed and recently began working.||Use the most recent three months' pay statements to determine future income.|
|You are self-employed with irregular income.||The IRS may want you to average your earnings over the prior three years. If there are drastic swings in income, the IRS may want a future income collateral agreement.|
|You are in poor health and your ability to continue working is questionable.||Use your current income for the length of time you are reasonably expected to be able to continue working and then reduce your income to the anticipated amount thereafter.|
|You are close to retirement and have indicated that you will be retiring.||The income to use depends on how well you can substantiate that your retirement is imminent. If you can substantiate this, then your expected future income and expenses in retirement may be used. If you cannot substantiate that retirement is imminent, current earnings and expenses will be used.|
|You are paid overtime.||If your overtime pay is regular and customary, overtime income will be included in current income. However, if your overtime pay is earned sporadically, then base pay will be used.|
|You receive gifts from friends or family to support your lifestyle.||If you have no guaranteed rights to the funds in the future and the amount does not appear to be based on you giving your friends or family something in return, the amount of the gifts will not be included as income.|
|You made money gambling.||Unless you are a professional gambler, and insofar as these winnings are inconsistent, they do not need to be included in income.|
|You are in medical school, law school, or some other professional school where your earnings are currently low but are expected to increase substantially after the completion of your program.||The IRS will likely want a future income collateral agreement.|
|You are a real estate agent who had high income the past two years but this year, due to the real estate market, your earnings are low.||Based on the real estate market, the IRS may use your current income but may want a future income collateral agreement in lieu of income averaging.|
Future Income Multiplier
Now that you have determined your monthly excess income, you have to multiply it by a future income multiplier of either 12 or 24 months to arrive at the income component of your reasonable collection potential.
The question of whether to use 12 or 24 months is answered by the length of time over which you plan on paying off the amount you offer, which is equal to your reasonable collection potential (equity component plus income component).
Here are your options:
|Offer Type||Terms||Future Income Multiplier||Down Payment|
|Lump Sum Cash Offer||Offer amount paid in a lump sum or no more than 5 monthly installments within 5 months after offer acceptance||12 Months||20% of offer amount|
|Periodic Payment Offer||Offer amount paid in more than 6 monthly installments within 24 months after offer acceptance||24 Months||None, but you must make monthly payments while IRS is considering your offer; otherwise, the IRS will consider you to have withdrawn your offer.|
Obviously, the lump sum cash offer results in a lower amount you have to pay the IRS, but you have to pay off your entire offer amount within a shorter timespan and you have to include a 20% down payment along with the offer.
Note that if you send in a dollar amount of less than 20%, the IRS may give you 30 days to correct that and submit an additional payment to reach the 20% down payment requirement.
Also, your monthly installment agreements do not have to be equal; you can make smaller payments and then make a large balloon payment in the final (typically fifth or twenty-fourth month, though of course you can make it earlier).
If you do not have the 20% down payment for a lump sum cash offer right away, you can submit your offer as a periodic payment offer but then switch it after acceptance to a lump sum cash offer, assuming that by that point you have the cash for the 20% down payment.
Periodic payment offer payments beyond the application fee and the initial payment should be made using Form 656-PPV or through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) (select “Offer in Compromise – Subsequent Periodic Payment”).
Reasonable Collection Potential Example
To summarize this section on calculating your reasonable collection potential, let’s run through an example.
Let’s say you have calculated your equity component as $20,000 and your monthly excess income as $1,000/month.
Because you have the cash available, you opt for the lump sum cash offer and so you multiply your $1,000 monthly excess income by 12 month to arrive at your $12,000 income component.
Therefore, your reasonable collection potential — and the amount of your offer in compromise — is $32,000 (the sum of your $20,000 equity component and your $12,000 income component).
Did you notice that the amount of tax you owe is completely absent from this calculation of your offer amount?
That’s right; the amount of tax you owe is not a part of the calculation.
Of course, the amount of tax you owe matters: If you owe less than your reasonable collection potential or just a little bit more than your reasonable collection potential, the IRS may reject your offer.
Offer in Compromise Calculation FAQs
Here are some common questions that taxpayers ask when calculating their doubt as to collectibility offer in compromise.
My spouse and I are married but are submitting separate offers in compromise. How do we allocate our jointly-owned assets between each other?
The general rule in this situation is allocate equity in the assets equally between you and your spouse.
An exception exists if you and your spouse demonstrate that your respective interests in a piece of property is not equally divided, in which case you would allocate the equity based on your respective contributions to the value of the asset.
Also, if you are offering to settle both joint and individual tax liabilities, equity will first be applied to your joint liability and then to your respective individual liabilities.
Logan is a practicing CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.