Bamboozled: Trapped in an IRS nightmare

BB brandingConnie Branch is no tax scofflaw.

But that’s not what the Internal Revenue Service says.

Records show she’s paid her taxes, in full and on time. Yet the North Plainfield woman has received IRS threats to enact levies and/or seize her property. And she’s also been told by IRS reps on every phone call she’s made, she said, that the problem would be corrected.

Instead, those calls were followed by more notices and threats.

Branch has put up with two years of red tape, bureaucracy and unfulfilled promises by the tax agency that keeps promising to correct a name change that worked just fine until 2010.

Her crime? Getting married.

In 2006, Branch, formerly known as Constance McDonald, officially took her husband’s name, changing hers to Constance M. McDonald Branch.

And all was well.

32513Until 2010, when Branch took a new job, and the employer arbitrarily shortened her name on her W-2 to Constance M. Branch.

“The IRS opened another file under my Social Security number due to the name change,” she said. “Though I thought this was resolved in 2010, they applied monies sent to pay my 2011 taxes to the wrong file, and though we’ve been through many heated conversations, they cannot get it right. Each time I receive a new notice from them it’s for a different amount.”

Over, and over, and over again.


In 2010, she was due a tax refund.

Her company had listed her name on her W-2 as Constance M. Branch, so that’s the name she used to file her taxes.

“I didn’t want to confuse the IRS anymore than they need,” she said. “However, my tax refund was held up because of the name change.”

So the back-and-forth began, and Branch said she contacted the IRS’ Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) for help.

The TAS describes itself on its web site: “Our job is to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly, and that you know and understand your rights. We offer free help to guide you through the often-confusing process of resolving your tax problems that you haven’t been able to solve on your own.”

She contacted TAS for help in Aug. 18, 2011. She said the rep was able to “release” the refund check, and that it would be mailed out in about three weeks. That’s when they realized Branch had files under two different names with the IRS, and the TAS rep said that would be corrected and the Constance M. Branch file would be closed.

In the meantime, Branch changed her name with her employer to make sure all future paperwork would be for “Constance M. McDonald Branch.”

More than a month passed and she didn’t receive the check. Angry and annoyed, she called again on Sept. 19, she said, and this time she also asked about receiving interest on the late refund.

She was directed to fill out some paperwork, which she said she did immediately.

She added a letter detailing the problem with the two IRS files.

Bamboozled reviewed a fax confirmation dated Sept. 20, showing the faxed paperwork was received. Branch said she called her case advocate and left a message, saying the forms were faxed.

But apparently, the IRS didn’t receive the paperwork.

After she received her refund check, she gave up on the interest crusade, just wanting to be done with it all.

And Branch thought all was well.

Until she filed her 2011 return.

This time around, she owed taxes, and she wrote a check to the IRS for $4,663.

But on Sept. 10, 2012, she received a notice from the tax agency saying she owed $3,324.24, which included interest charges of $39.12 and a failure-to-pay penalty of $80.12.

Oct. 15 brought another notice, this one saying she owed $3,349.82. Yes, more penalties and interest charges.

Then a week later, she received a notice dated Oct. 22, saying said she owed $1,532.04

From the time of the first notice, Branch said, she spent many hours on the phone with the IRS, trying to straighten it all out.

“For every notice received, I called and was told the name change files had been joined, Constance M. Branch was closed, or referenced to the Constance M. McDonald Branch file,” she said. “And each time was told I had no balance due and the notices would stop.”

No one was able to explain why the numbers kept changing, either, she said.

Frustrated, Branch wrote a letter to Steven Miller, the IRS’ acting commissioner, on Feb. 7 of this year.

“The Constance M. Branch file was never closed, or noted that it should be ignored and referenced to the Constance McDonald Branch file,” she wrote. “I don’t work for the IRS and am sure I’ve

gotten your lack of procedure detailed. However, the check that was sent to pay the 2011 taxes was applied to the Constance M. Branch file and that is why I am receiving notice after notice after notice.”

She asked the agency to correct her 2011 tax status, close out and completely destroy any file referencing “Constance M. Branch” and only refer to the “Constance McDonald Branch,” and she also requested a letter signed by the acting commissioner explaining which file was correct. She wanted that letter so she could submit it with every tax return going forward.

Feb. 11 was a bonus day: she received two notices. One said she owed $3,446.62, including interest and penalties, and a second, titled “Notice of intent to levy,” said she owed $1,567.98.

More calls to the IRS, and still, no resolution.

On March 4, the newest notice had a new twist: She had overpaid by $1,387.52, and now had a credit balance of $108.72.

She’d had enough, and Branch asked Bamboozled for help.


We’ve heard great things about the Taxpayer Advocate Service before — it’s helped many of our readers — so we were hoping the right person could get a look at and correct Branch’s files.

We made contact and forwarded all Branch’s paperwork, plus a letter from her granting the IRS permission to discuss her case with us.

No such luck.

“Federal disclosure regulations prohibit the IRS from discussing a particular taxpayer’s tax return or tax matters. In fact, it is against the law,” a spokesman said. “While a taxpayer may authorize such disclosure, it is generally not in the taxpayer’s best interest nor in the best interest of tax administration for the IRS to discuss a taxpayer’s tax issues in a public forum.”

Okay, we can accept that.

The spokesman said he forwarded the information on Branch’s case to someone “who can look into it and hopefully resolve the issue.”

That, and that Branch will have to be the one to notify us of any resolution.

She promises she will.

“Make sure when filing your tax return after a name change/addition to have your employer use the exact name as it is stated on your Social Security card or other photo ID,” Branch said. “When speaking to the IRS, take notes, including the name and number of the IRS agent, and always follow up.”

“Though it may not have gotten me very far, and it is frustrating and time consuming, it helps in the long run,” she said.

We’ll let you know what happens.