How many of your neighbors owe the IRS?

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So we wanted to know how many of your neighbors also owe the federal government? With the arrival of W-2 forms, a lot of us begin the task of figuring out our income taxes for 2008. But if history is any indication, millions of our fellow Americans won't pay what they owe.

From the nation's capitol itself, we've heard a lot about back taxes these past few weeks. No fewer than four of president Barack Obama's nominees -- three of them for cabinet positions -- have admitted to their family owing taxes. It even cost Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer their potential jobs.

So if these high powered types have issues with paying what the government says they owe, what about the rest of us?

I called the IRS office here in southwest Houston to ask them about delinquencies. A spokesperson said they didn't want to talk about it on camera. But I did find some numbers you might find interesting:

Around 8.2 million Americans owed more than $83 billion in back taxes, penalties and interest. That's about $10,000 per person. And as of that same year, the IRS already had 3.8 million existing delinquency investigations. It added 2.5 million new ones, closed another 2.7 million, which left it with 3.7 million still to investigate.

"I would say more often than not they're accidental," said tax attorney Charles Hammond.

Hammond represents clients who owe back taxes and his small firm has helped more than 500 people in the last year alone, though he says the key to avoiding problems is pretty simple.

"People forget that they simply have to save their receipts, their documents," he said. "Be able to document the credits and deductions that they take."

But as the economy continues to suffer, some experts suggest we can expect the number of delinquencies -- accidental or otherwise -- to go up, with the ability or desire to pay to go down, whether it's here in Houston or elsewhere.

As for keeping your tax records and receipts, you should hold to them for at least three years just to be safe. The deadline for filing your 2008 income taxes is April 15, less than ten weeks away.

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