The Internal Revenue Service is revoking the tax exempt status of some of the largest credit counseling agencies in the country. An IRS investigation disclosed that the firms solicited business from people seriously in debt and that they didn't provide counseling or consumer education, as required.
Prodded in part by a congressional oversight committee and consumer advocates, the IRS began investigating dozens of credit counseling agencies -- most holding non-profit status -- two years ago. IRS Commissioner Mark Everson says the companies "poisoned an entire sector of the charitable community."
Everson says in many instances, companies were organized merely to funnel business to loosely affiliated for-profit companies. Many of the firms spend millions of dollars on commercials that urge anyone with debt to call them to solve their financial woes. And because tax-exempt organizations are not bound by the federal do-not call list, the firms were able to randomly call consumers, pitching their services under the guise of a non-profit counseling service.
The IRS investigations area also likely to affect consumers, thanks to a new bankruptcy law that requires consumers considering bankruptcy to get counseling before they are allowed to file. The IRS wants to ensure that only legitimate non-profit agencies are doing the counseling.
In addition to the actions announced Monday, the IRS is sending more than 700 compliance letters to the rest of the credit counseling industry.