For many, a notice of enforcement may seem especially worrisome, because it brings so many uncertainties. IRS audits are statistically rare. Even the IRS admits that audits are rare. But that fact is hardly a comfort if you happen to be the one audited. Any IRS action can be fraught with uncertainty, fear, and even grief.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about it in her 1969 book, "On Death and Dying". Dr. Kubler-Ross probably didn’t have IRS tax problems in mind when she came up with the five stages. Yet consider this progression for an IRS problem:
2. Anger. Someone (my bank, my employees, my relatives, my enemies) must have told the IRS about me. How dare the IRS put me in this position? I’ll flee the country. I’ll sue my accountant. It’s my ex’s fault (he/she was the one who caused this problem anyway, not me). The IRS is crooked and illegitimate anyway, and they’ll waste the money I pay them. The government can’t do this to me. IRS penalties are unfair and onerous.
3. Bargaining. OK, I think I need to pay something to the IRS. I can make a deal, or just tell the IRS about part of the problems. That will look good, like I'm really honest. Besides, there's no way for the IRS to check my story.
4. Depression. I give up. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I sent off the papers but maybe I should have just gone AWOL with a backpack. I could have lived off the grid in Jakarta. I'm a sap to be in this spot, writing checks to the IRS. I feel sick.
5. Acceptance. This IRS deal isn’t free, but it’s not bad either. At least this way I can sleep at night. Now I can spend my money without going through all sorts of crazy gyrations.
Not all of these emotions appear in every case, of course. In fact, some people don't go through any of these stages. Yet this progression can happen and isn’t as crazy as you may think. In fact, this parallel track can also play out:
Now that it’s done, I should have just ignored it and they never would have caught me. Besides, I was never worried about going to jail.