The Technical Definition of an IRS Tax Assessment

A tax becomes due the moment it is assessed. A tax assessment is an internal bookkeeping entry made by the Internal Revenue Service when an IRS assessment officer signs a summary record of assessment, with supporting records describing (1) the taxpayer’s name and address, (2) the character of the assessed liability, (3) the taxable period (if any), and (4) the amount of the assessment. 26 C.F.R. § 301.6203-1.

As described in an IRS Revenue Ruling:

Until its transition to computerized recordkeeping, the Service generally used Form 23C for the summary record of assessment, but it now uses, except in unusual circumstances, a computer-generated summary record of assessment known as the RACS Report 006. Both forms have been recognized as summary records of assessment within the meaning of [Internal Revenue Code] section 6203. See March v. Internal Revenue
Service, 335 F.3d 1186, 1188 (10th Cir. 2003).

Tax assessments are presumed to be correct, and the taxpayer bears the burden of showing that assessments are arbitrary or erroneous. FN1. To prove a tax assessment, “[c]ourts have indicated that a Form 4340 is adequate to prove a valid assessment if it lists the ‘23C date,’ indicating the date on which the actual assessment was made.” FN2. Without clear contrary evidence, assessments are presumed to have been made by the Internal Revenue Service in accord with its regular procedures for making tax assessments. FN3. Administratively, the IRS’s online master-file account transcripts for a taxpayer’s tax period and form would also show whether and when an assessment has been made and would be sufficient for the IRS to rely upon internally and in administrative collections, even though the more formal Form 4340, a certified version, would be used where the Federal Rules of Evidence apply.

FN1. Welch v. Helvering, 290 U.S. 111, 115, 54 S. Ct. 8, 9 (1933); United States v. Molitor, 337 F.2d 917, 922 (9th Cir. 1964).
FN2. Huff v. United States, 10 F.3d 1440, 1446 (9th Cir. 1993).
FN3. Lewis v. United States, 279 U.S. 63, 73, 49 S. Ct. 257, 260 (1929); Hughes v. United States, 953 F.2d 531 (9th Cir. 1992).

Daniel W. Layton, the author of this post, is a former IRS trial attorney and former Federal prosecutor. In the latter role, he was tasked with handling criminal tax prosecutions and civil litigation including tax refund suits, lien enforcement and foreclosures. At his Pasadena Tax and Bankruptcy Law Firm, he uses his knowledge of IRS procedures and rules to protect his clients’ rights. He may be contacted at (626) 790-6802.