We are currently living through the Information Age, harvesting, selling, and protecting information has become a significant undertaking both by private individuals and corporations, as well as by the government. One person who has huge amounts of information about you without your explicit consent is the reader of your Individual Master File. The Individual Master File (IMF) is the profile the IRS creates for every individual taxpayer, there is also a counterpart for legal entities called the Business Master File. Any taxpayer may learn about their IMF (or Business Master File) by requesting a “tax transcript.” This request may be made through Form 4506-T, by calling 800-908-9946, or by accessing it online. There are five transcript types and together they reveal what has been reported to the IRS (by the taxpayer and third parties) as well as what the IRS has done with that information.
Unfortunately for anyone interested in learning what the IRS knows about them, the IMF is not always complete. In addition to the Master File, there is Non-Master File (NMF). The NMF is a special repository containing information beyond the IMF’s technological capacity (which is several decades old and uses magnetic tape records). This accounts for certain specialized circumstances, such as overdue child support or balances of $1 billion or more. Unfortunately, there is not an expedited process to access an NMF, nor is there even a website to visit or a phone number to call. Instead, a written request must be mailed to the Philadelphia IRS Campus (for individuals) or the Cincinnati IRS Campus (for businesses). The IRS is slowly transferring information to CADE 2, IMF’s replacement. However, this has not affected the process of obtaining transcripts so far. The IRS usually only gives transcripts redacted (“masked”) for personally identifiable information.
Ultimately, a significant amount of the difficulty of gaining anything from tax transcripts lies in reading them rather than retrieving them. They are replete with codes, and although these codes are accompanied by a description of two or three words, “sometimes these descriptions don’t adequately explain the account transaction,” according to the National Taxpayer Advocate. Complete understanding requires consulting Document 6209, an information systems guide nearly 400 pages long. Specifically, section 8 of Document 6209 discusses the thousands of possible codes for the IMF, some of which have multiple meanings or are redacted.
Aside from potentially satisfying idle curiosity, tax transcripts are useful to fill gaps in records held by taxpayers and to provide information trusted by banks to obtain a loan.
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