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Owe The IRS? No Problem!

"If you owe the IRS lots of money, forget about it. We'll take care of it. We'll get them off your back. You won't have to pay all of what you owe. So, why should you pay what you really owe when our expert former IRS agents can negotiate a low settlement for you?"

The above is a paraphrase of the many commercials that I've been seeing on television lately. The premise is that through no fault of your own, you have failed to pay the taxes that you owe, and the mean and nasty IRS wants its money. There is no reason for you to despair, because there are companies who can help you negotiate a settlement with the government.

Online, you can see even more explicit ads:

"Ex-IRS Agents Solve IRS Problems Up To 99 percent Off Tax Debt."
"How To Settle With The IRS For Pennies On The Dollar."
"Average Savings of 90% On Taxes"

The people behind that last ad don't stand a chance. Why would I want to save only 90 percent on my taxes, if somebody else can save me 99 percent? They're actually advertising that some people can pay only 1 percent of what they owe. Do you think the place where you bought your car would make that kind of deal? Or how about the bank that holds the mortgage on your house? Somehow, I don't think if you gave them a check for 1 percent of what you owe, they'd say, "Congratulations! The house is yours now." So why is our government doing it?

I understand that people can get in financial trouble and have difficulty paying the taxes that they owe. I also understand the IRS working out a payment plan with these people so they can pay their taxes without ruining their lives. What I don't understand is why the government negotiates "settlements." Shouldn't people have to pay 100 percent of what they owe eventually?

Why should those of us - often with some difficulty and usually with some anger or, alas, sadness - have to pay 100 percent of what we owe, but those who have failed to meet their tax obligations get to pay less than what they owe? Again, I'm not talking about the family whose house burns down or whose breadwinner suddenly and tragically dies, leaving the family in financial chaos. I'm talking about people who just don't budget well, spend more than they earn, or simply have the attitude of, "Why should I pay taxes? What's the government done for me lately?" Why is the IRS rewarding people who are financially irresponsible?

The "forgiveness" that the government offers to some people is not necessarily a terrible concept. It's just applied to the wrong people. If you're going to give it, give it to those who went through Katrina or are victims of the current fires in California, or to those who have been fighting in Iraq, not to those who just feel that paying taxes isn't a high priority for them.

Or if the government is really intent on having a "sale" in which they mark down what they're charging people, shouldn't they be offering this discount to its good and loyal customers? Give a little break to those of us who pay our taxes every year. Why not? Some stores offer discounts and special sales to their good customers. And who's the owner of the corner drugstore more likely to take a few cents off an item for: the customer who always pays on time, or someone who hasn't paid for those glow-in-the-dark condoms for six months?

Just to be clear, it's the IRS that I'm blaming. I don't blame the people who want to pay as little as possible. We all would like to pay as little as possible. And I don't blame the companies who offer this service. I'm sure they are legitimate businesses.

However, I did see something surprising when I went online to check out one of these companies' Web sites. I'm no expert in advertising or marketing, but I just don't think I would've chosen the celebrity spokesperson that they picked. It's former baseball great Pete Rose. I'm not kidding. In case you're not familiar with Pete's tragic story, he spent five months in jail in 1990 for tax evasion.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them rather taxing.

By Lloyd Garver