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Reasonable Cause vs. First-Time Penalty Abatement

Reasonable Cause vs. First-Time Penalty Abatement Blog Summary

Reasonable Cause vs. First-Time Penalty Abatement 

Dealing with IRS penalties can be a stressful and costly experience, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the available penalty relief options. Two common options are Reasonable Cause and First-Time Penalty Abatement. Here, we’ll explore the differences between these two penalty relief programs, helping you understand which one may be the best choice for your specific situation. 

Section 1: IRS Penalties 

IRS penalties can be imposed for various reasons, such as late filing, late payment, inaccuracies in tax returns, and underpayment of taxes. These penalties can add up quickly and create financial stress for taxpayers. Fortunately, the IRS provides penalty relief options to help individuals and businesses facing these situations. 

Section 2: First-Time Penalty Abatement 

First-Time Penalty Abatement (FTA) is a penalty relief option provided by the IRS for taxpayers who have a clean compliance history. To qualify for FTA, you must meet the following criteria: 

  1. First-Time Offender:

You have not previously been assessed any significant penalties for the past three years. 

  1. Compliance History:

You are currently in compliance with all filing and payment requirements. This includes filing all required tax returns and paying any taxes due. 

  1. Reasonable Cause:

You must provide a reasonable cause for the penalty relief request, explaining why you were unable to comply with tax obligations. While FTA is often granted without the need for a detailed explanation, having a legitimate reason can strengthen your case. 

  1. Penalties Eligible for Abatement:

The FTA primarily applies to failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties. Other penalties, such as accuracy-related or fraud penalties, are typically not eligible for FTA. 

Section 3: Reasonable Cause Relief 

Reasonable Cause Relief is a more comprehensive penalty relief option. It is available to taxpayers who have a legitimate reason for their non-compliance and can demonstrate that they acted with reasonable cause. While FTA is primarily designed for first-time offenders, Reasonable Cause Relief is available to all taxpayers, including those who have previously faced penalties. 

To qualify for Reasonable Cause Relief, you must: 

  1. Have a Legitimate Reason:

You must demonstrate a legitimate reason for your non-compliance, such as a medical issue, natural disaster, or other extraordinary circumstance. 

  1. Act with Ordinary Business Care and Prudence:

You need to prove that you acted with ordinary business care and prudence in your efforts to comply with tax obligations. This typically involves showing that you made a reasonable effort to meet your tax responsibilities. 

  1. File All Delinquent Returns:

You must file all delinquent tax returns and pay any taxes due. This is a key requirement for penalty relief eligibility. 

  1. Provide a Detailed Explanation:

A detailed explanation of the circumstances that led to your non-compliance is crucial when requesting Reasonable Cause Relief. The IRS assesses each case individually, considering the specific circumstances involved. 

Section 4: Key Differences 

Here are the main differences between First-Time Penalty Abatement and Reasonable Cause Relief: 

  1. Eligibility:
  • FTA is primarily for first-time offenders. 
  • Reasonable Cause Relief is available to all taxpayers. 
  1. Compliance History:
  • FTA requires a clean compliance history for the past three years. 
  • Reasonable Cause Relief does not have specific compliance history requirements. 
  1. Penalties Covered:
  • FTA primarily applies to failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties. 
  • Reasonable Cause Relief can cover a broader range of penalties, including accuracy-related penalties. 
  1. Explanation Requirements:
  • FTA often does not require a detailed explanation. 
  • Reasonable Cause Relief necessitates a thorough explanation of the circumstances leading to non-compliance. 

Section 5: Which Option to Choose? 

Choosing between First-Time Penalty Abatement and Reasonable Cause Relief depends on your specific situation. Here are some factors to consider: 

  1. Compliance History:

If you have a clean compliance history and are facing failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalties, FTA may be a suitable option. 

  1. Legitimate Reason:

If you have a legitimate reason for non-compliance and are facing a broader range of penalties, Reasonable Cause Relief may be the better choice. 

  1. Previous Penalties:

If you have previously been assessed penalties, Reasonable Cause Relief is your primary option, as FTA is specifically for first-time offenders. 

  1. Detailed Explanation:

If you can provide a detailed explanation of your situation and actions, Reasonable Cause Relief may be more appropriate. 

Section 6: Seek Professional Assistance 

Navigating IRS penalty relief options can be complex, and understanding which option is best for your situation may require professional guidance. A tax advisor or attorney with experience in tax penalty relief can assess your case, help you choose the right option, and guide you through the application process. 


IRS penalties can be a significant financial burden, but relief options are available to help taxpayers find a way out. First-Time Penalty Abatement and Reasonable Cause Relief offer valuable opportunities to reduce or eliminate tax penalties. By understanding the differences between these two options and seeking professional guidance when needed, you can effectively address IRS penalties and regain financial peace of mind. 


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Table of Contents


 The simple answer is no. A business and a person are completely separate, thus, any personal tax debts or liabilities should not affect your business.

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No. The IRS’s Innocent Spouse Relief protects you from paying these additional taxes. However, this does not relieve you from household employment taxes, business taxes, individual joint responsibility payments etc. Priority Tax Relief helps you learn more about innocent spouse relief.

The most popular option to date would be an Offer In Compromise (OIC). At Priority Tax Relief, we help tax relief help become more accessible to taxpayers in need and help them understand how they can qualify for these options.

IRS tax liens are legal claims on your property when you do not settle your tax debts. The IRS usually sends out a notice when no payment has been made after a liability assessment. Find out more about tax liens with Priority Tax Relief.

Yes. Not only can the IRS put a claim on all your current property, tax liens can also affect any property or intangible or tangible assets that you obtain in the future. At Priority Tax Relief, we help you understand federal tax liens and how to communicate with the IRS.


Tax levies are the actual seizure of your property and are different from legal claims or tax liens. Settle your taxes before the IRS sends out a notice. Priority Tax Relief helps you understand tax levies and how you can avoid them.

Yes. Not only can they seize physical property but they can also legally take hold of the money in your bank account and other wages. To avoid this from happening, contact Priority Tax Relief now.

Your debt will, unfortunately, continue to grow and you will possibly lose a great number of your assets. It is definitely a scenario we do not wish to see happen to anyone, that’s why Priority Tax Relief makes sure that our help becomes within reach.

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