Optima Tax Relief

Practical and Practice issues for Professionals who practice in the area of taxation. Moral, social and economic issues relating to taxes, including international issues, the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, state tax issues, etc. Not for "tax protestor" issues, which should be posted in the "tax protestor" forum above. The advice or opinion given herein should not be relied on for any purpose whatsoever. Also examines cookie-cutter deals that have no economic substance but exist only to generate losses, as marketed by everybody from solo practitioner tax lawyers to the major accounting firms.
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Optima Tax Relief

Postby Gregg » Sun May 21, 2017 3:39 pm

I hear a lot of sensational commercials for Optima Tax Relief, where they give anecdotal stories "Bob owed $35,000 and settled for just $300, saving $34,700!"

I'm assuming the typical "results not typical" but are they really getting these kinds of results? If they are, what is their fee and how is the IRS giving such huge discounts? Is this just OIC cases, which can honestly be done by a moderately intelligent person?

I was just under the impression that an Offer In Compromise was dependent on the taxpayer not having anything to give the IRS. If in such cases the vendor is getting 10% why is the IRS settling for $300 when the helper is getting $3400?

Anyone familiar with them?
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby Gregg » Sun May 21, 2017 3:45 pm

And if they are doing so well, and its not as hard as I think, AND if its something that requires little in registration, permitting etc... (DO I need to be a CPA or a Registered Agent?) I would seriously consider banking a start-up and recruiting some work at home phone center workers and do this.

Have a good tax attorney develop a template software generator, submit the data, pocket the fee and split it with me.

Honestly, if I'm reading there business model right, its just finding scared people who want to get good with the government and walking them through the more or less straightforward process that the IRS set up to do yourself anyhow.

Am I wrong?
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby LaVidaRoja » Sun May 21, 2017 7:55 pm

SOME of those fabulous results are cases where the taxpayer ignored all correspondence, received a Statutory Notice of Deficiency, did not petition the Tax Court and got assessed for maximum dollars. Good assistance does an OIC on doubt as to liability, provides adequate records for the disallowed losses, basis, deductions, and the case is resolved for a very minor amount.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby LaVidaRoja » Sun May 21, 2017 7:58 pm

So yes; scared people who need calm, professional assistance. Don't know how they bill. I believe I have heard rumors that they bill based on a percentage of the reduction in tax they secure. If you start with a $300K liability and get it down to $3K, and charge 10% of the reduction, you collect $29K for the firm. Not too bad for what may well be about 10 hours of work.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby The Observer » Sun May 21, 2017 8:10 pm

Gregg wrote:Am I wrong?


Pretty much on target. In my experience "offer mills" charge a hefty up-front fee to their clients to represent them for the submission of the offer (OIC). I have seen situations where the fee was $10,000 or more.

I'm assuming the typical "results not typical" but are they really getting these kinds of results?


They can get these kinds of results, if the taxpayer's circumstances meet the criteria the IRS deems to be an acceptable offer: that the IRS cannot legally collect more than the what the taxpayer is offering. Of course it depends on how the taxpayer's circumstances are presented by the taxpayer and/or their representative.

Is this just OIC cases, which can honestly be done by a moderately intelligent person?


I would guess, in the case of the Optima ads, they are aiming at the OIC market, but I know that Optima also will work out installment agreements, getting the tax account reported as hardship or point the client towards a bankruptcy. I don't know if Optima will represent a client in a bankruptcy however.

I was just under the impression that an Offer In Compromise was dependent on the taxpayer not having anything to give the IRS.


Not always. If the taxpayer has the ability to pay something and/or has equity in assets, the IRS will accept an offer amount that is more than the equivalent of those payments and equity. Think back on the Willy Nelson offer-in-compromise - he did pay something based on his financial status.

If in such cases the vendor is getting 10% why is the IRS settling for $300 when the helper is getting $3400?


If the offer was legitimately acceptable at $300 because the taxpayer could only pay $300, then the representative's fees do not enter into the equation unless the IRS can show the fees were exorbitant and unreasonable and out of line with what other practitioners charge. This has been a long-running battle over the years with the IRS and taxpayers and their representatives. Back in the 1990's, some unscrupulous representatives were encouraging taxpayers to fully encumber their homes prior to submitting an offer to shield the taxpayer from the equity portion of the offer calculation; in some cases the reason given by the taxpayer for the loan was that they had to pay the rep his or her fee up front. Criminal Investigation began investigating and raiding some of the worst firms and effectively shut them down.

But even now, most firms require their fee paid up front (a good rule if you are going to have people who can't pay their bills as clients) and the IRS cannot punish the taxpayers or their reps for this practice.

(DO I need to be a CPA or a Registered Agent?)


To fully represent an taxpayer before the IRS, a rep has to be an licensed attorney, CPA or enrolled agent. In some cases a close relative of the taxpayer can represent the taxpayer or the employee of a business (office manager). This is true for offers, although unenrolled return preparers will attempt time and time again to submit offers for their clients and represent them.

Have a good tax attorney develop a template software generator, submit the data, pocket the fee and split it with me.


I think the problem with that model is if someone had written a successful template, they would have no need to have you in the picture and just keep the entire fee for themselves. I doubt that a successful template would ever work as a rubber stamp, since many taxpayers have unique circumstances or situations that have to be considered as well as just their bottom line. A template would not be able to interpret that and put a value on what ultimately becomes an IRS decision. As an example, you have an elderly couple who equity in their home and could actually full pay their tax liability by selling the house and turning over the proceeds. But the IRS had to address that circumstance in light of the overall public opinion of requiring the couple to effectively make themselves homeless. So the offer investigator, the offer manager and IRS counsel may have to consider accepting an amount less than that that will keep the couple from losing their home yet at an amount that will not make the public feel as though the couple evaded their responsibility.

Honestly, if I'm reading there business model right, its just finding scared people who want to get good with the government and walking them through the more or less straightforward process that the IRS set up to do yourself anyhow.


Yes, and that is why the ads get aired as you described. People tend to make mountains of their molehills, despite the fact that 97% of tax collection issues can be resolved by the taxpayer themselves. In addition, the traditional fear of the IRS and its powers only convinces people that they have to get an expert that can shield them from or defeat the IRS. And if the firm is promising pie-in-sky miracles about not having to pay, it makes it all the easier to sweep in the terrified. But I have talked to people who realized all too late that they paid for service that they could have easily done themselves once they looked back at the entire process.

How do you know if you are getting reputable and professional representation? If you are engaging with a representative and see the warning flags below, you may want consider terminating the agreement (although you may lose the fee that you paid):

(1) The firm requires you to prepare the collection information forms (CIS - either or both F-443-A and F433-B) that the IRS has requested. A reputable firm will only ask that you provide your personal financial documents and verification and then will complete the form themselves. They will also contact you if they encounter areas on the form that they cannot complete because they need you to provide further information. If you are paying for them to do work, you should not be the one doing the work.

(2) The firm refuses to allow you to be present at any contact or conversation with the IRS. A reputable firm will have no problem of you attending, though they may require you to agree to not talk or ask questions; they will also request the IRS agent to direct their questions to the rep rather than you and the IRS should agree to that. I would always recommend that a taxpayer attend at the least the first meeting in order to get an idea of where the IRS agent is heading in their investigation and to get an idea of how the rep firm is responding in representing them.

(3) If you start getting notices, levies and/or notices of liens filings despite the fact that the firm has promised your situation is resolved or nearing resolution - this could be an indicator that the firm has failed to represent you properly and timely with the IRS. Most collection cases do not have to result in collection enforcement, but the IRS will act if they have set a deadline for some response or action on your part. If the representative has failed to meet that deadline, if they have gone out of their way in being obstructive or purposely delaying resolution, the end result will be you getting garnished and your assets being publicly noticed as being encumbered by a tax lien. A reputable firm will seek to avoid brinkmanship with the IRS and look for alternative constructive resolutions. Sometimes the filing of a lien notice cannot be avoided due to circumstances being present in your case, but the firm should recognize that and be able to tell you ahead of time that this is going to happen. And the firm should be cognizant of the collection due process rights you are provided to appeal those actions if they come about as well as advising you if this is worth the additional time and money it will cost to pursue.

(4) The firm starts asking for additional money during the investigation to represent you. In some cases it is appropriate, especially if you wish to pursue an appeal or litigation - activities that are typically outside the normal range of collection representation. A reputable firm will know about how long it will take to resolve a case with the IRS for you and should not try to tack on additional fees just because it took a little longer. If the firm charges on an hourly basis, then they will provide a billing schedule that should detail and show exactly how long and what activity was required for that time charged. But if the rep keeps charging you for weekly conversations with the IRS and you see no end in sight, then there is a problem and you need to find out why.

(5) If you do not hear from your rep over a length of time or they fail to keep you updated on progress of your case. In some cases silence from your rep could mean that the IRS has done nothing on their side of the fence. But even so, that does not mean time is on your side - interest and penalties are still accruing against you and the IRS will not forgive those penalties merely because they were working on other cases. A reputable firm will follow up with the IRS regularly and will keep you advised as to what the status of your case is.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby The Observer » Sun May 21, 2017 8:16 pm

The length of an average offer investigation is a hard figure to pin down, since it depends if the offer is a simple-straight forward offer the campuses that work those offers usually average about 7-8 hours to resolution. If the offer is deemed to be complicated, a field assignment will go from 12-16 hours of investigation. However, hours of case time can never be equated to calendar days, and because of backlog, lack of offer examiners and specialists, time required for the going back and forth between the IRS employee and rep/taxpayer, mailing of documents (faxes cut down that time), etc., most resolutions take 7-12 months.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby fortinbras » Mon May 22, 2017 2:43 am

An Offer-in-Compromise could be a generous savings, but these commercials stretch credulity.
I am inclined to believe that they follow the lead of the Ronnie Deutsch, who made it sound like she would pull a gun on the IRS agent to get a good settlement.
I suspect Optima exaggerates the magnitude of its compromises, possibly exponentially, to attract customers. This would be unprofessional for lawyers, maybe not for enrolled agents or lesser creatures.

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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby wserra » Mon May 22, 2017 11:10 am

fortinbras wrote:I suspect Optima exaggerates the magnitude of its compromises, possibly exponentially, to attract customers. This would be unprofessional for lawyers, maybe not for enrolled agents or lesser creatures.


That's unprofessional for anyone. However, unprofessional does not necessarily mean unlawful, and unlawful does not necessarily mean that anything will happen.

That's a really good red-flag summary, Obs. Moreover, much of it applies to any service industry, including the law.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby The Observer » Mon May 22, 2017 3:23 pm

Thanks, Wes.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby The Observer » Mon May 22, 2017 3:31 pm

By the way, Gregg, the IRS has developed a "template" of a sorts for taxpayers to use as a tool to at least get a guestimate on what a reasonable offer amount would be for their situation. You can take a look at it at Offer-in-Compromise Pre-qualifier at the Offer page on http://www.irs.gov.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby Gregg » Wed May 24, 2017 1:59 pm

Thanks everyone for your input. I'm not seriously thinking of doing anything, but the exercise of thinking it through is interesting to me.
I am, first, somewhat outraged that the premise of their solicitation is borderline dishonest and seems exploitative to me. Its just a step above an outright scam in my book, even if the premise of helping people get right is a good and noble goal.
I'm thinking that the way to go about fixing the situation if someone wanted to honestly do some good, would be to be a feeder of sorts, and establish a network of competent tax attorneys across the country for whom you would recruit clients and share a finders fee. That's definitely more work than I'd ever be interested in, and is probably already being done by someone who doesn't run sensationalist commercials.
But I'm glad to hear some professional opinions.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby The Observer » Wed May 24, 2017 4:09 pm

I have toyed with the idea of just running seminars, charging a set fee where taxpayers are taught some of the basics of dealing with and interacting with the IRS; that might provide some people with the alternative of not running the "offer mill" gambit.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby wserra » Wed May 24, 2017 4:32 pm

Gregg wrote:establish a network of competent tax attorneys across the country for whom you would recruit clients and share a finders fee.


Not that it doesn't happen, but that's unethical unless the "finders" are lawyers. Moreover, as a lawyer whose practice has included a sizable referral network for years, I get solicited by these things all the time. They are universally ripoffs.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby Gregg » Thu May 25, 2017 11:32 am

Really...now I understand that "Non Attorney Spokesperson" thing on ads for class action lawsuits.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby wserra » Thu May 25, 2017 1:23 pm

The other side of the same coin: lawyers who advertise up a storm, but haven't paid the courthouse a visit in thirty years. Recognize "Sokolove Law"?
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby Pottapaug1938 » Fri May 26, 2017 2:28 pm

wserra wrote:The other side of the same coin: lawyers who advertise up a storm, but haven't paid the courthouse a visit in thirty years. Recognize "Sokolove Law"?


I was practicing law (divorces, wills and real estate), in Lowell, Mass., in the early 80s when Sokolove got his start. My boss specialized in personal injury law. He was approached by Sokolove, who said that he could send boatloads of clients our way, in return for a cut of the fees. My boss told me, as he was drafting his rejection letter, that he already knew where to find boatloads of clients, and would hire more trial attorneys to handle the excess if necessary. He felt that the only lawyers who needed Sokolove were the ones who couldn't make it on their own.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby notorial dissent » Fri May 26, 2017 3:18 pm

That would be worrying to me.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby fortinbras » Tue May 30, 2017 3:23 am

Frankly, there are lawyers out there who cannot seem to attract clients notwithstanding they have talent and know-how. For them, a guy like Sokolove, who farms clients out to them for a kick-back, might be a very wholesome way to build up their careers.

Some of the TV ads you see - "Have you been injured by asbestos?" or tobacco or such-and-such medication or medical procedure - are similar 'farmers'. Another, very brave and very hard working lawyer, perhaps on the other end of the country, has won the leading case on this sort and this 'farmer' made a point of having someone xerox the whole court file with all the evidence. "Clients" contacting him are then farmed out to lawyers chosen from telephone directories - if the lawyers will buy (for hefty sums) a pack of the xeroxes from the leading case. The defendant company, having already lost the leading case, has had its knees chopped off and is probably willing to settle most of the plausible lawsuits, so everybody's happy - the clients get a settlement, the lawyer gets a chunk of the settlement for very little work, the 'farmer' gets money from every lawyer for even less work. It's the very first lawyer - the one who probably mortgaged his home and worked for years interviewing experts and digging for evidence - who won that leading case, who probably doesn't make any easy money from any of this.

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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby Gregg » Sun Jul 16, 2017 4:14 am

I am opposed to class action lawsuits in principle. I know that their is a good argument to be made for the general idea, but I have been on the winning side of a more than a few where I get a coupon for $10 off my next purchase of the offending item, and the lawyers get $17 million.
Those are actual numbers from one from years ago involving fees for an early cell phone equipment agreement I had. By the time it settled, it became common for the actual phone to be free if you signed up for a set time, which was of course the terrible thing the lawsuit was about to begin with, the fact that when you first got the phone, it was impossible to change your phone to another company's service... I got another huge check of less than $10 because in the 1990s Paypal charged me some fee or another, and the lawyers in that one made a few million as well.

So every time I see the commercial for "classaction.com" or Sokolove Law it gets me just a little angry. I know that they focus more on real and serious things than cell phone bills and paypal fees, but it still strikes me as only a little better than some of the scams we talk about in other parts of the forum.

Which, by the by, I have to mention the first time I got a lot of exposure to these commercials was when out of town on business in a cheap hotel, no premium cable, and I work nights so I was watching (or ignoring) daytime TV. SHows like Springer, Maury, Sally Jesse.... the stuff that ignorant rednecks watched before Fox News came about. Every damn commercial was for a law firm looking for people who had befallen some tragedy.
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Re: Optima Tax Relief

Postby Arthur Rubin » Mon Jul 17, 2017 7:23 pm

Gregg wrote:I am opposed to class action lawsuits in principle. I know that their is a good argument to be made for the general idea, but I have been on the winning side of a more than a few where I get a coupon for $10 off my next purchase of the offending item, and the lawyers get $17 million.
Actually, I got $1000 for one on AT&T phone mischarging (I think the settlement slipped a decimal point; actual damages were probably closer to $30, but noone still has records), and $600 or so each for two different suits against health insurance companies (probable actual damages around $1500 each). I never received the $10 Target coupon from the Fedco settlement (in bankruptcy), though.

If the numbers reported by the court are correct, the lawyers only got about 10%+costs in each case.
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