Do you remember the days of yore when you’d call someone and the phone would keep ringing and ringing with no answer? And you were okay with that because you’d just call them back later hoping to reach them?
No? Oh yeah. Me neither. The world has changed.
When you call someone, you either expect them to pick up or you leave a message and believe they’ll return your call in a timely manner. That’s how it works with most situations.
But not with the IRS. Especially in 2022, this has been the case. They have been severely understaffed.
And if you can’t get through when calling the IRS, it’s a problem. Frustration is the common denominator for most people when trying to reach Uncle Sam’s tax agency. This is even the case for us here at Emelia Mensa, CPA – though we have practitioner lines that (purportedly) offer priority access. Understaffed is understaffed.
Enter the IRS with their shiny 5-year strategic plan to improve upon the taxpayer experience. We reserve skepticism for how things will actually change (especially on a reduced federal budget and with a … not so good track record).
All of that said, we do get through to the IRS a little faster and with better results than the standard taxpayer because of our special access line. If you’re tired of being on hold or just don’t have the time to keep calling the IRS to get answers, well, we can help. We might even be able to find an answer to your question without contacting Big Brother:
But, if you are going to go about calling the IRS alone, we want to prepare you for what that looks like…
Your Rundown for Calling the IRS
“To lose patience is to lose the battle.” – Gandhi
Congratulations (?) You need to talk to the IRS. Now the “fun” begins …
When you’ve got a federal tax problem, reaching someone in authority becomes a priority. Too bad the IRS is short of staff, resources, technology – short of everything, in fact, except returns still waiting to be processed.
How can you get much-needed answers when calling the IRS?
Ever try to get through to a busy office that was way way behind? Well …
The good news: The IRS recently said it is almost finished processing individual tax filings – from 2021 for tax year 2020. It also claims to have processed most of the 2022 filings, more than 143 million returns.
The bad news: The IRS said it still faces more than twice as many unprocessed tax returns as in a typical year, with some 11 million individual returns still pending. Paper tax returns make up their own long, extra-special waiting list for processing.
Some say the backlog is far worse.
No matter the guesswork, it’s a fact that IRS funding has been slashed over the past dozen or so years. Throw in that federal tax policy undergoes a massive change with every presidential election, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for confusion and delay – and for not picking up the phone.
You can still get the answers you need.
If calling the IRS is such a problem, you might be wondering when you should face that kind of hassle. When “never” is not an option …
Realize that the IRS has problems with certain kinds of returns, and so a call isn’t going to tell you anything new. These include incomplete or paper returns and returns that need corrections to such credits as the Recovery Rebate Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, or child tax credits. It can also take longer if you’re wrangling with tax-related ID theft. The IRS says you should call them only if it’s been 21 days or more since you e-filed or more than six months since you mailed your paper return.
In the Don’t Bother Department… IRS reps cannot help with: business, sale and depreciation; capital gains and losses; commuting; corporations, exempt organizations and partnerships; education; health care; international; rentals and residential; trusts; and specific forms.
If you do call, have ready all Social Security numbers and birth dates (or your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number if you don’t have a Social Security number), your filing status, your prior-year tax return, any return you’re calling about, and any correspondence the IRS sent you.
Wait times in tax-filing season supposedly average 13 minutes (critics say it can be more than twice that) with even longer waits off-season. Lines are open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., local time. Interpreters and call assistance are available.
The number for individual taxpayers is 800-829-1040.
There are also special phone numbers to find a free tax clinic (800-906-9887), request paper IRS forms (800-829-3676), schedule an appointment at an IRS office (844-545-5640), check the status of an amended return (866-464-2050) or refund (800-829-1954), among other questions.
Any portal in a storm
We’ve got three words for you: IRS – dot – gov.
IRS.gov is the agency’s website, and on it, you’ll find tools to tackle many federal tax pains. You can make a payment or set up a payment plan, request tax forms or your tax transcript (the summary of your returns over the past few years), and look at your individual account.
Online, probably one of the most popular IRS destinations is “Where’s My Refund?” – where you can find out where your money is (or when you got it) for the last three years. You can start checking this within 24 hours after you electronically file your 2021 return and three or four days after e-filing your 2019 or 2020 return. (If you filed on paper, it could take six months – or more.)
By the way, we tax preparers can also access a special IRS help site for CPAs, enrolled agents, and the like. So maybe we can get through when you can’t. Just ask, and we’ll get right to work for you.
Mail … NOT the first choice of the IRS. We can help you find the right national or local (usually state-specific) address. And remember faxes? Well, the IRS still takes them for transcript or filing extension requests. Again, we can help track down the right local number.
The IRS will also do up close and personal with a variety of what they call “Taxpayer Assistance Centers” all around the country. Find the office you want (here’s a locator) and call for an appointment. Show up with a current government-issued photo ID, your Social Security number, and all the appropriate documents. Pandemic protocols may still apply.
We know – it doesn’t sound easy to get through to everybody’s “favorite” government agency. If you’re going to go it alone, whether by call, by mail, by fax, or carrier pigeon, “may the odds be ever in your favor.”
Of course, if you want someone else to spend that time on the line, waiting for the IRS to pick up, we’re more than happy to do it. Plus, we know a thing or two about how to communicate with them and get exactly what is needed for your situation:
In your corner,
Emelia Mensa EA, CPA