The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget has been cut by $2.5 billion from 2010 to 2018, and it now has 22,000 fewer employees than it did in 2010, making IRS customer service challenging, to say the least. The IRS subjected 8.8 million taxpayers to “courtesy disconnects” through the 2015 tax-filing season that ended in mid-2016. “Courtesy disconnects” are a euphemism for hanging up on taxpayers after a prolonged hold time. In the previous tax year, there were “only” 544,000 courtesy disconnects.
Even if a taxpayer managed to get through, he or she wasted lots of precious time just waiting to speak to an IRS representative. The average wait time was 23 minutes in 2015, up from fourteen in 2014. According to a report from the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS level of service during the first week of this year’s tax filing season dropped by at least 56 percent compared to last year, and the average wait times were 17 minutes on the Accounts Management lines and 48 minutes on the Automated Collection System. Budget cuts and the government shutdown were blamed for the decline in customer service.
Fortunately, the IRS has many other methods and resources that can handle the more common questions without having to waste almost an hour of your life waiting to speak to an IRS representative. One of the more useful resources is the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA). ITA is an interactive online assistant that can help you with many questions regarding tax law. This includes linking to pages explaining the changes introduced by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Once you search for a topic, ITA will respond and ask a series of questions that leads you to the answers that you are looking for. Answer the initial questions and use the “Continue Button” to move forward to the next question screen, based on your responses. After the final response is generated, you can choose to print out the entire interview and/or the final response. Note: Do not use your browser’s “back” button with ITA; it can cause a system error that will require you to exit and start a new session.
There is a separate list of topics on the ITA website that lists some of the more common questions such as “What is the Simplest Form to Use to File My Taxes?” and “Can I Deduct My Mortgage-Related Expenses?” You can choose to use the links on that list if one of the topics fits your situation.
In the event the ITA cannot address your question, you could be sent to the Tax Trails application at IRS.gov. It will direct you to other resources that can address your concerns.
The ITA assumes that you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, and have been so for the entire tax year in question. If you are married, your spouse must also meet the same criteria. Otherwise, the advice you get from the site may not apply. Look up IRS Publication 519, “U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens,” for assistance in that case.
Keep in mind that the answers on the ITA should not be considered as written advice to any specific request of yours, as defined in the tax code. See the disclaimer on the ITA website for details. In other words, it is best for you to verify the answer to your question within other IRS sources later, because the ITA response would not hold up in court in case of a dispute about the advice provided.
If you do not mind multi-tasking while you are on the phone or simply would rather talk to a person regarding your tax issue, good luck getting the IRS on the phone. However, we suggest trying the ITA program first. You may be able to get your answer in a much shorter time and free up an IRS agent to solve somebody else’s more complex problem. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. Now, what will you do with the extra half-hour in your life?
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