Published: June 24, 2024

IRS Fresh Start Application

IRS Fresh Start

Trying to figure out how to apply for the Fresh Start program? Well, unfortunately, there isn't an actual Fresh Start program that you can apply for. If you've been seeing ads from tax relief companies, this probably comes as a surprise to you— these companies heavily market the Fresh Start program, and they always talk about it as if it's an actual program that you can apply for even though it's not.

This article explains why these companies do that, and then, it talks about alternative programs that you can apply and avoid getting ripped off by the companies promoting this program. 

What Is the Fresh Start Program?

The Fresh Start initiative was a set of procedural updates that the IRS made in 2011. The updates made it easier to get an offer in compromise, and they also changed some of the IRS's collection tactics. The purpose of this program was to help people who were in tax debt solve their tax problems more easily.

How Do You Apply for the Fresh Start Program?

Because there is no actual program, per se, there is not a Fresh Start application. However, if you want tax relief, you can apply for a variety of other programs that all have their own application forms and procedures.

What Is the Deadline to Submit a Fresh Start Application?

There is no application deadline for the Fresh Start program. Again, this is not an actual program. Instead, it's marketing lingo that tax relief firms use to draw in clients. 

If someone tells you that you need to act quickly to take advantage of this program, they are lying. Similarly, if someone talks about the Fresh Start Application, they are misleading you. These are huge red flags, and you should avoid tax relief companies that talk about the Fresh Start initiative in this way. 

Why Do Tax Relief Companies Still Talk About the Fresh Start Program?

First, the phrase "fresh start" is great from a marketing perspective because that's what people want—a fresh start with the IRS. Years ago, it probably even made sense for these companies to talk about the Fresh Start program because the initiative truly did offer advantages for people with tax debt. 

Now, however, the main reason tax companies continue to use the phrase "Fresh Start" is because it's very effective for drawing in traffic on the internet. If someone hears the phrase "Fresh Start" on the TV or radio and they type it into Google, they will most likely see results from the big tax firms. 

Perhaps, searching "Fresh Start application" is even why you find this webpage. Note, however, that TaxCure is not a tax relief company. It is a directory of tax professionals who specialize in tax debt resolution.

The IRS doesn't have an updated page about the Fresh Start program application, and by extension, it's easier for companies to capitalize on this word. In contrast, if someone searches for currently active IRS programs like an Offer in Compromise or penalty abatement, the IRS website will dominate the top results, and that makes other companies less likely to get traffic. 

Applications for Programs That Help You Get a Fresh Start

Even though there isn't an actual Fresh Start application, there are several different programs that can help you get a "fresh start" with the IRS. Here is a brief look at the main options with links to the application forms:

Offer in compromise

An offer in compromise lets you settle your tax debt for less than you owe, but to qualify, you must prove that you can't afford to pay the tax bill, you don't owe the tax bill, or it would be inequitable to force you to pay in full.

If you cannot afford to pay in full, you apply with Form 656-B. This is actually a booklet that contains multiple forms including one to make the offer (aka how much do you want to settle your tax debt for) and others to prove your financial situation. You should use Form 656-L if you want to apply based on doubt of liability. 

Penalty Abatement

The IRS offers penalty abatement in two main situations: 1) first-time abatement for people who are normally compliant with tax law and 2) reasonable cause penalty waivers for people who filed or paid late due to death, serious illnesses, etc.

To apply for penalty abatement, you can just call the IRS or write a letter requesting penalty abatement. Alternatively, you can file Form 843. Tax relief firms often refer to this program as one-time IRS forgiveness, but again, that's just a marketing term that they leverage to get web traffic. It isn't a real program. 

Tax Lien Withdrawals

The Fresh Start Initiative also reduced the threshold at which the IRS issues tax liens, and it also made it easier to get a tax lien withdrawn. Those changes continue to be active in 2024. 

You can get a tax lien withdrawn in a few different ways such as setting up a payment plan with direct debit or convincing the IRS that withdrawing the lien will help you pay your tax debt. Depending on the situation, you may also be able to get a withdrawal in a few different ways.

To apply for a lien withdrawal, use Form 12277. Fun fact: This application actually came into existence due to the Fresh Start program. It wasn't around before then.

Installment Agreements

Installment agreements are when you make monthly payments on your tax debt. The original Fresh Start initiative didn't directly address payment plans for individuals, but it did make it easier for businesses to get payment plans. 

Generally, active businesses must pay off tax debts within two years, but if your business is no longer in operation, you may be able to get longer to pay. The rules vary based on the situation, your finances, and your history of compliance. 

However, since the Fresh Start initiative, the IRS has made all kinds of updates to its rules for installment agreements. As of 2024, you can apply for a payment plan online if you owe less than $50,000. If you owe more than that, you will need to apply over the phone or by filing Form 9465. The IRS also reduced the amount of financial information you need to provide to get a payment plan.

Bottom Line — You Can Apply for a Fresh Start

Although there is no "fresh start application" and not really even a "Fresh Start program", you can still get a fresh start with the IRS. The agency has all kinds of programs to help taxpayers pay off their debts over time or even settle for less than they owe in some situations. However, every program has a unique application. 

In some cases, you may even need to complete two applications. For instance, if you want penalty relief and a payment plan, you may need to complete two forms. Depending on your situation, you may be able to handle everything on your own, but if you want additional guidance, there are all kinds of experienced tax pros who can help you. 

When you use TaxCure to find a tax pro, you'll get an experienced tax professional who provides high-quality service, and doesn't have to leverage misleading phrases like the fresh start application to get your business.