Did you know the final weeks of tax season is historically the busiest time for taxpayers trying to contact the IRS? Bad as it is now, it will only get worse each day closer to April 15th. In fact, last year more than 18 million taxpayer calls went unanswered and that number will likely increase in 2014 with fewer people to man the IRS phones. In an attempt to manage expectations, the IRS has issued various public messages making it clear that they will not be able to help as many taxpayers by phone or in offices this year. Accordingly the IRS is redirecting taxpayers to their website and asking for patience and understanding. Why?
The IRS has lost 10,000 employees due to budget cuts and sequestration over the last four years. The recent budget deal did not restore the sequester cuts or any of the lost positions so the IRS will continue to do more with less.
As the IRS workforce ages out, less vacancies are being filled causing staff shortages throughout the agency. The current training budget is 85 percent less than in 2009 so there is less money available to train new recruits and those moved into new positions within the IRS. The younger less experienced employee now has less training and less mentorship than ever before and must service a continually growing taxpayer population.
In addition, the IRS has reassigned more than 3,000 additional employees to Tax ID Theft, and cross-trained another 35,000 employees working with taxpayers, to recognize Tax ID Theft indicators and help those victimized by Tax ID theft. While this is a good thing for those taxpayers impacted by Tax ID Theft, it leaves the cross-trained employees who are not reassigned with less time to perform their normal duties and to provide taxpayer assistance. As Tax ID Theft increases, this will likely have a greater impact on all taxpayers.
To encourage taxpayers to use online services and to stay online longer instead of calling, the IRS has relocated their "contact IRS" toll-free numbers from the prominent positioning on their website to lesser prominent and dare I say harder to find locations. Callers checking on their refunds are told to use the "Where's My Refund" online application and to call back only if their refund is still not received after 21 days from the date IRS received their return.
What does this mean to you? While IRS services have been reduced or eliminated, there is still a lot of FREE help available and in many places: You get answers to tax questions normally handled by the IRS and with much better accuracy by contacting your local tax professionals -- and largely for free. There are many good online tools available on IRS.gov as well as many tax businesses websites. Many of the large service firms have free online support services including real time tax question/answer services. Many local and regional tax companies also provide a variety of services to support taxpayers, develop relationships and hopefully promote business and client support. The IRS and many of the top tax businesses also offer mobile apps to help you with tax questions, checking refund status and even to find your closest local Tax Professional. Paid tax preparers are still ready and available to help you complete your tax return accurately and quickly and they even offer electronic filing often for free.
If you still prefer going it alone and dealing directly with the IRS, you can still contact the IRS by phone, just be prepared to wait. If you must call the IRS, try calling early in the morning for the shortest wait and hold times.