Public demand is up and government funding is down. What’s a beleaguered organization like the IRS to do? The nation’s tax collection agency says it will be emphasizing online services and automation to help weather the hectic 2014 tax filing season.
With fewer resources at its disposal this year, thanks in part to the federal government sequester, the IRS intends to rely heavily on IRS.gov and its automated phone system to assist taxpayers when live help isn’t available. The IRS hopes to strike the appropriate balance between using technology and good old-fashioned elbow grease. Specifically, it will focus on the following six areas.
1. Tax return preparation: The IRS has been cutting down on tax return preparation at its 250 walk-in offices for years. It now says it will direct taxpayers during the upcoming filing season to more than 13,000 volunteer partner sites across the country in lieu of offering limited walk-in services. The IRS will refer taxpayers who visit the walk-in offices to the nearest volunteer site for tax return preparation. Also, the IRS Free File program provides free e-file and tax preparation software to qualified taxpayers.
2. Transcript service: Beginning early in 2014, the “Get Transcript” service on IRS.gov will enable taxpayers to instantly view a copy of their tax transcripts. This option should save both time and effort. When the service is available, transcript requests will generally be referred to the online tool. Taxpayers can use it to authenticate, view, and print copies of transcripts in one fell swoop.
3. Tax law questions: Most tax law questions fielded by the IRS relate to basic issues, such as tax filing status, dependents, exemptions, and taxable income. But a small number pose more difficult queries. Beginning with the 2014 filing season, the IRS will refer taxpayers with complex questions to other resources, such as IRS.gov, its tax publications, and software packages taxpayers may already be using.
4. Tax refund inquiries: Despite a usual turnaround of no more than twenty-one days, the question most frequently asked by taxpayers is, “Where’s my refund?” Now the IRS will direct all refund inquiries during the first twenty-one days after an electronic filing to the “Where’s My Refund?” tool. It’s available both in English and Spanish through the IRS2Go mobile phone app, IRS.gov, and the automated telephone service. IRS customer service representatives will jump in to help only if more than twenty-one days has passed for an electronic return or six weeks for a paper return.
5. Practitioner Priority Service® (PPS): The PPS gives tax practitioners a valuable resource for resolving taxpayer client account issues. It has also been used by taxpayers. Beginning in January, the PPS will be strictly limited to tax professionals. All other requests will be referred to other avenues. This change is expected to help the IRS better serve tax practitioners and to free up other resources for customer service.
6. Employer Identification Number (EIN): Use of the EIN Online Assistant continues to grow. More than four million requests a year are processed electronically compared to less than 600,000 requests made for an EIN via the manual telephone option. Beginning with the 2014 filing season, the IRS will refer all EIN requests to the EIN Online Assistant. Only requests involving a previously assigned EIN will go to a live IRS representative.
Taxpayers should find these automated services convenient and easy to use. What’s more, they are generally available on a twenty-four/seven basis. Be prepared to step in and help out clients who need further assistance.