The IRS has new, more lenient rules

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In a nod to the widespread financial woes of 2008, the Internal Revenue Service is extending more options for filers with problems paying their tax tab.

The new policies apply to those with older delinquent tax bills as well as people who may be struggling to pay their 2008 taxes due to job loss, illness or other hardship.

"The IRS will do everything it can to help during these tough times," IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman says in a statement.

If you call the IRS with a problem, employees have more leeway to:

Postpone or suspend collection actions on delinquent accounts. If you've recently lost your job, had a serious illness or have only a low fixed income, such as Social Security, you may get a reprieve that will halt those nerve-wracking collection calls.

Give you more time to make up missed payments. The IRS usually cancels installment agreements if a taxpayer misses a payment. Under the more lenient rules, agents can reduce your monthly amount or forgive a skipped payment right over the phone. The same goes for those struggling to make payments on an Offer in Compromise agreement, where the IRS has previously agreed to forgive part of a delinquent bill.

Review the value of your home. Some people couldn't negotiate a reduced payment plan because they had too much home equity. Given the dive in real estate values, the IRS will reconsider whether your home value really is enough to prevent you from getting a compromise deal.

Stop seizing your money. The government will refrain from garnishing your paycheck or bank accounts if you can prove financial hardship. When you call the IRS to ask for a reprieve, be sure to have your bank or employer's tax identification number and any levy paperwork you've received.