Hang Up On War Stories

Dealings with Specific Phone Companies

Resisting the federal tax on telephone service can be a very simple process, as described on other pages. On this page and the linked pages you will find some stories of long-time phone tax resisters. Some have had relatively easy experiences, and some have had more complicated experiences with phone companies, but continue to resist nonetheless. We are presenting these stories to help you along the way — if it turns out you need help. Remember, the main thing to watch for is that the phone company does credit the tax, rather than build up a “past due” on your bill.

You can read the official IRS Procedure for Telephone Companies. Note this text in particular: “If the person from whom the tax is required to be collected refuses to pay it or if for any reason it is impossible for the collecting agent to collect the tax from that person, the collecting agent is required to report to the [IRS] Commissioner the name and address of that person, the nature of the facility provided or service rendered, the amount paid therefore, and the date on which paid.”

Here are some links to descriptions of experiences telephone tax refusers have had with a variety of telephone service providers:

July 2014 note from friends in Wisconsin

We had a recent bout with the phone company over federal tax. Over 28 years, the unpaid balance finally exceeded their accountants acceptable level. They sent us a disconnect letter. We pointed out that it was all unpaid federal tax and no actual service fees. They checked with their lawyer, we checked with ours… this website! We did some math and pointed out how much we have paid them over the years and suggested the federal tax was just a very small amount in comparison. It took some time, but the phone company forgave the tax owed and said they could forgo putting it on our bill. We did celebrate the victory with some wine, but when the next phone bill came, it was the same as it always was and we have just started accumulating an unpaid tax balance again. Hopefully in another 28 years we can have the same conversation or better yet, federal tax will no longer be charged and best yet, taxes won’t be used to pay for war!

40 Years of Phone Tax Resistance

Southwestern Bell (1970–73), New York Telephone-NYNEX-Bell Atlantic-Verizon (1973–2002), AT&T (2003 to present)

In 1970 I began refusing to pay the federal excise tax on telephone service and have used several different carriers since then. In the early 1970s when I lived in Austin, Tex., Southwestern Bell was the easiest phone company to use. All they required was one letter from me and after that they automatically removed the tax from every bill.

When I moved to New York City in 1973, the various incarnations of the local carrier (Verizon, formerly Bell Atlantic, formerly NYNEX, formerly New York Telephone) had me jump through a variety of hoops over the years. At one point I needed to enclose a letter with every bill payment, then one letter to the business office was sufficient for them to automatically remove the tax from every subsequent bill, then I needed to call them every month, then a letter needed to be sent to the business office every month. In the end (through 2002), Verizon became the most difficult company. Despite all my letters and periodic telephone calls, they would accumulate (over a period of a year or more) a large balance on my bill that I would eventually succeed in getting removed. I found someone in their business office who I could call every few months, and she would have the tax removed. In no case was I ever forced to pay the tax or was my phone service ever discontinued.

Throughout all these years, AT&T has usually been my long distance carrier. At times they required a monthly letter but would never accumulate the tax or threaten to cut off service. When I switched my local service to AT&T as well (in late 2002), they provided me with a form to fill out that included “war tax” as one of the options to check off as to why I wasn’t paying. After that, the federal excise tax was automatically taken off the bill.

Over the years I learned that when the initial customer service person balked or didn’t understand (“You have to provide a form proving you’re tax exempt”), asking for a supervisor, contacting the business office directly, and most of all persistence eventually paid off.

The phone companies always say they will report my nonpayment to the IRS on a quarterly basis. However, I have not been directly contacted by the IRS about my nonpayment of the federal excise tax since the early 1980s. And in only one (or was it two?) instance did the IRS ever pursue me over the telephone tax. That was in the early 1970s in Austin when they went to the university where I worked as a teacher and had my whole salary (about $250) seized for about $5 in the tax. Several months later the IRS refunded the balance of what they seized minus the tax but PLUS the interest accumulated on that balance over-seized, which almost wiped out the tax they took!

— E.H., New York