As of mid-2021, if you called the IRS, your chances of getting through to a live person were only about 7%. The IRS has not been able to adequately staff its phone lines or keep up with call volume for several reasons:

  1. IRS funding has been paltry for the past decade, affecting its ability to staff phone lines and fulfill other critical functions.
  2. The IRS phone lines were largely shut down for months during 2020, while IRS offices were closed due to COVID-19. Since the lines have reopened, they’ve been flooded with requests.
  3. The IRS has still not recovered from the significant mail backlog it amassed in 2020 during COVID-19 shutdowns. Call volume has been high, with taxpayers trying to get status updates on the 10 million tax returns the IRS has not yet processed, and other issues resolved.
  4. In 2021, the IRS has had to adjust quickly to help roll out additional stimulus payments, adjust the taxability of unemployment compensation, and issue new child tax credit payments. These changes both strained IRS staffing and further boosted call volume.

So, how do you get IRS help?

Pre-pandemic, phone and mail were the best ways to get through to the IRS. Now, that’s no longer the case. And it doesn’t look like the phone and mail situation will improve until mid- to late 2022 at the earliest.

So, until the IRS resolves its mail processing and call backlogs, you have several other options:

1. Set up an online IRS account. You can actually get answers to many of your questions online without having to call the IRS. In 2016, the IRS launched online accounts. Once you confirm your identity and set up your account, you can access information on tax payments you’ve made, amounts you owe, payment plan options, pending transactions, and tax records. You can also make payments online, set your email preferences, and obtain various transcripts.

If you received an IRS tax notice, you can access information via your account to help explain the notice. Often, the first step in responding to a tax notice is to view the IRS’s official record of your tax situation, an account transcript, to help clarify what’s going on. You can request an account transcript via your online account. If you prefer to have your tax professional assist you in understanding and responding to IRS tax notices, you can also use your online account to authorize your tax preparer to access your transcripts. This saves valuable time and helps minimize tax professional fees.

Want more information? Check out the IRS’s 1.5-minute YouTube video explaining how to set up your online IRS account.

2. Use the IRS’s new online system to authorize your tax professional to speak with the IRS on your behalf. For privacy reasons, the IRS will not speak with anybody other than you about your tax situation, including your tax preparer! However, you can authorize your tax professional to speak with the IRS on your behalf. To do so, you must complete a Form 2848, Power of Attorney for Tax Matters.

In the past, getting a Power of Attorney (POA) on file with the IRS took time and generally resulted in additional professional fees. That’s because after your tax professional prepared the POA and obtained all signatures, they would have to wait 30 to 90 days for the IRS to process a paper POA. Or they would have to spend time calling the IRS, waiting on hold, faxing over your POA, and waiting while the IRS agent confirmed receipt of the faxed POA.

Now, online filing of a POA can take as little as 10 minutes. In July 2021, the IRS launched the online tax professional account to expedite POA authorizations. As a result, you and your tax professional can now do everything online (so long as you use a US mailing address on your tax returns). The authorization process is quick:

    1. Have your tax professional initiate the POA from their side, via the new online tax professional account.
    2. Log into your online account. (See above for information on setting up your account.)
    3. Go to the “Authorizations” tab.
    4. Approve your tax professional’s online request for authorization.

The online system can be used for an estimated 85% of POAs (but not those for taxpayers who use foreign mailing addresses on their returns). And it cuts down on time and headache for all parties.

Plus, since the IRS offers tax professionals a special “Practitioner Priority Phone Line,” tax professionals generally have better success in reaching the IRS. Like the normal IRS phone lines, the practitioner line has been affected by IRS staffing shortages, as well as a flood of automated spam calls. However, it’s still generally easier for tax professionals to get through.

3. As a last resort, enlist the help of the IRS Taxpayer Advocate. In 2019, Congress passed The Taxpayer First Act, which focused on improving IRS customer service. It also established the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), which can be used to help you when all other avenues have failed.

The TAS provides assistance in cases where:

    • You are experiencing severe financial hardship from an IRS issue that you have not been able to get resolved through normal IRS channels.
    • The IRS’s regular process and procedures for addressing an issue have failed to operate as intended.
    • You have not received fair and equitable treatment from the IRS.

In these cases, the TAS can serve as your advocate to navigate the IRS’s systems and bring about an expedited resolution. To see if you qualify for TAS assistance, use the online TAS Qualifier Tool.

In the current environment, we highly recommend that you take advantage of as many of the IRS’s online options as possible. Doing so can help you get the information you need faster.

If you have tried the options above and would like further assistance, we may be able to help. Feel free to contact us for further assistance. The Wolf Group has nearly four decades of experience and success in contacting the IRS to resolve issues on behalf of clients.