During the period of Jan. 20, the opening day of the 2015 tax-filing season, through Jan. 31, the IRS received more than 14 million individual income tax returns, a 25.6 percent increase over the 11.2 million returns the tax agency received at this point last year, according to data released by the IRS on Feb. 6.
However, the IRS noted that the increase in filings this year compared to last year is a result of the 2014 tax season starting 10 days late due to the 16-day federal government shutdown in October 2013.
Of those 14 million returns, 13.3 million – or 95 percent – have been filed electronically so far this year. The high percentage of e-filers is not surprising, as the IRS in recent years has strongly encouraged taxpayers to use that avenue to file their returns instead of sending in paper returns.
“We encourage taxpayers to e-file their returns since it is the quickest, safest, and most accurate way to file and the fastest way to get a refund,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a written statement.
The agency has emphasized that taxpayers will receive their federal refund faster by using the IRS’s Free File program with the direct deposit option. Individuals can check the status of their refund by using the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on the agency’s website. So far this tax season, the IRS has issued 7.6 million refunds worth $26.8 billion, with the average refund amount totaling $3,539. More than 96 percent of all refunds – 7.3 million refunds worth $26.2 billion – have been directly deposited into taxpayer accounts.
Strained by budget cuts and a declining staff, the IRS is directing more taxpayers to its website to try to reduce the burden on its ill-equipped call center, Koskinen recently told the USA Today in an interview.
The IRS has been plagued by a $1.2 billion funding reduction over the past five years. The agency’s FY 2015 budget was recently slashed by $346 million from FY 2014 to $10.9 billion. Koskinen told the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month that the total reduction from last year is actually closer to $600 million, taking into account the $250 million increase in mandated costs and inflation.
Because of budget cuts, the IRS expects to lose approximately 3,000 additional full-time employees this year, bringing the total reduction in full-time staffing since FY 2010 to more than 16,000. As a result, the IRS expects nearly half of the calls it gets this tax season to go unanswered. Wait times for those who get through will push 30 minutes.
“It's a challenging year,” Koskinen told the USA Today last month. “We are trying to move as many people [online] as we can. Last year, 15 percent to 18 percent of our calls were people asking for information about their refunds or their transcripts that they could have gotten online.”
The plan seems to be working, according to IRS data. IRS.gov has been accessed more than 65 million times so far this year, up 49 percent from the same time last year.
About Jason Bramwell
Jason Bramwell is a staff writer and editor for AccountingWEB. He has nearly 20 years of experience in print and online media as a journalist and editor.