I’ve heard from a number of readers frustrated with their inability to get their tax refunds or economic impact payments, with attempts to contact the IRS via phone only adding to their unhappiness.
According to Erin Collins, the national taxpayer advocate, in her midyear report to Congress, the IRS received 167 million calls during the 2021 filing season -- more than four times as many calls as occurred during 2019, the “last typical filing season.”
The advocate works for TAS, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (tinyurl.com/2pn2funa). TAS was created by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights 2 in 1996 as an independent organization within the IRS. TAS’s purpose is to help taxpayers when they have problems they can’t resolve with the IRS. However, even TAS said on its website in March (tinyurl.com/32e6v8ca) that its ability to help with delayed tax refunds is “limited.”
According to Collins’ report, the IRS had a “Level of Service” on its Accounts Management telephone lines of 15%, and only 7% of taxpayer calls reached a “telephone assistor.” The numbers were even worse on the most frequently called IRS toll-free number, the “1040” line. About 85 million calls were placed, and only 3% actually reached a telephone assistor. As Collins noted, when so few calls get through, “problems remain unsolved and taxpayer frustration mounts.”
Collins’ midyear report shared important information on a number of fronts. For example, she noted the challenges the IRS had in accomplishing its tasks given the COVID-19 pandemic and the added responsibility of three rounds of stimulus payments.
At the end of the 2021 tax filing season, the IRS had a backlog of over 35 million individual and business income tax returns that required manual processing. The backlog included roughly 16.8 million paper tax returns waiting to be processed, about 15.8 million returns that were suspended during processing and required further review, and approximately 2.7 million amended returns that awaited processing.
The backlog largely was due to the pandemic, which brought social-distancing measures that kept many employees away from IRS offices.
As Collins noted: “The pandemic exposed weaknesses and vulnerabilities that must be strengthened ... and it is causing the IRS and congressional overseers to collaborate on steps to improve the IRS’s performance going forward to provide taxpayers with the service they deserve.”
The advocate recommended a number of steps for the IRS to take, among them reducing barriers for the e-filing of returns and expanding callback technology for the high-volume toll-free IRS telephone lines. My readers will be pleased when these improvements are implemented.
You can review the full list of recommendations at tinyurl.com/m7k7b4yd.
The IRS agreed to implement 48 of 73 recommendations (in full or part) made by Collins previously in her year-end report (see Appendix 1 at tinyurl.com/4k6ee66m).
If you are still waiting on the IRS in frustration, positive changes may yet come out of this pandemic-related tax turmoil.
As Collins wrote: “In the coming months, the IRS must work through its backlog of tax returns and be current in processing its correspondence while focusing on rebuilding itself to become a more efficient and taxpayer-centric organization. In the coming years, the IRS must modernize its operations to better meet taxpayer needs, reduce administrative burdens, and improve the delivery of services.”
Let’s hope next year is not as challenging at tax time as this one has been, especially for those who are financially in need.
Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments (email@example.com). Please visit www.juliejason.com.
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