Every American has felt the long reach of the COVID-19 pandemic in their lives. From banking to grocery shopping, safety concerns to supply chain disruptions, the pandemic has changed our perceptions and the way we exist in the world. While some adjustments were temporary, many have persisted or evolved. Even government departments such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) were dramatically impacted. As a result, many taxpayers have struggled to find the best way to communicate with the IRS.
If you have ever tried to call the IRS you know how frustrating it can be trying to get through to a live person. When you call the 800 number, you are placed on hold that could last 30 minutes or more. Worse, you might get disconnected after waiting on hold. Or the IRS automated attendant will come on the line, with the message that says “the IRS is currently experiencing heavy call volume” and to call back at a later time, and then the line is disconnected. If you send a letter to the IRS there is a good chance they will lose it or not acknowledge it was received. I always recommend sending correspondence by certified mail or private carrier, to evidence proof of delivery.
So If you’re wondering how to best communicate with the IRS in this post-pandemic period, we’ve put together an overview to help. First, let’s look at what has changed and why it matters.
What was the Impact of COVID-19?
Before 2020, taxpayers who needed to communicate with the IRS would do so by phone or by mail, or face-to-face at local IRS offices reaching IRS employees who worked onsite at government locations. Most of the IRS operations relied on paper-based processes and enforcement conducted from government locations.
In March of 2020, the IRS temporarily shut down its onsite operations to comply with COVID restrictions. This had an impact on office-based operations as well as mail processing facilities, as IRS employees were not set up to telecommute.
This disruption created long waits for taxpayers who tried to communicate with the IRS by mail or phone, as well as the distribution of tax refunds and COVID relief checks. It also meant reduced tax enforcement, due to a backlog in cases and reduced staff availability.
When operations resumed, there were many service interruptions. By July 2020, a freeze was put on IRS enforcement notices, pushing casework into 2021 and beyond.
Pandemic Operations and Tactics
Like many organizations, the IRS operated only in-office prior to the pandemic, forcing them to pivot to a new way of doing business. The IRS was forced to provide more e-work flexibility for its employees and to transition from paper-based operations to digital processes.
Included in the shift to digital operations were more self-help options for taxpayers. In 2021, the IRS piloted a chat service that streamlined several functions, allowing taxpayers to send certain documents and confirm their identities online.
While the IRS has benefitted from streamlining some operations and automating specific interactions, many taxpayers have yet to see direct benefits. When IRS employees shifted to remote work, it created unfair delays in processing.
For example, if an IRS officer drafted a letter to set up an audit meeting with a taxpayer, they might not send it until a periodic trip into the office (i.e. 2 weeks later). By the time the taxpayer received the letter, they might have had little to no warning of the meeting, or even worse a deadline to respond or appeal had been missed.
In addition to these bumpy—often unfair—adjustments to new ways of doing business over the pandemic, new legislation has set a course for additional enforcement. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 promised approximately $80 billion to the IRS over 10 years, with $46 billion marked for enforcement.
While it is still unclear how these funds will be distributed, the government has stated an intention to increase digital asset monitoring and compliance activities. In other words, taxpayers can expect increased IRS enforcement in the months and years to come.
Current State of IRS Operations
The IRS has set January 23 as the official start of the 2023 tax season. Taxpayers want to know what to expect this year and how they should communicate with the IRS if they have questions or issues.
Make no mistake, the IRS is still catching up from its service backlog during the pandemic. In May 2022, the IRS had an unprecedented backlog of 21.3 million unprocessed paper tax returns. The IRS responded by reassigning employees from phone response duties to mail processing. As a result, phone service declined—during the 2022 tax season, just one in 10 of the 73 million phone calls to the IRS made its way to a live employee.
The IRS has since been working to hire employees and improve service levels. In November 2022, it announced that it would be hiring 700 new employees to help with in-person inquiries.
Together with the funding allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act, it is safe to say that IRS operations will look different throughout the 2023 tax year. Taxpayers can likely expect better levels of service, along with an increased move towards digital records and a higher level of IRS enforcement.
Strategies to Communicate with the IRS
Now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to have a good understanding of how and when to communicate with the IRS. If the government is both catching up and ramping up its services, you want to make sure you have the information you need to stay in good standing.
In addition, critical changes to tax laws in 2021 may leave you with ongoing questions regarding your taxes. Here are the most direct ways to communicate with the IRS in 2023:
- Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) – If you don’t mind using an automated tool, the government’s ITA provides quick, straightforward answers to your basic tax questions. In essence, the tool acts as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
- By Phone – See a list of IRS phone numbers here. When you call, be sure to have your birthdate, Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) handy, along with your prior-year tax return and any IRS correspondence.
- Taxpayer Assistance Center Office – If your tax issue can’t be handled online or by phone, contact one of these offices to see if they can help.
If you have received IRS notices by mail, it is important to respond in a timely way, but you also need to make sure you have all the information you need. Perhaps you’ve received IRS notices regarding unpaid back taxes or outstanding balances. Maybe the IRS has even threatened to seize your property or assets.
Every year the IRS sends out millions of incorrect letters and threatening notices demanding payment of taxes, penalties and interest, when in fact it is quite possible that no money is owed at all!
Rather than feel threatened or pushed into compliance with IRS demands, it’s important to make sure you are only paying what you owe. Having an experienced tax team on your side can help you navigate all communication with the IRS, from simple questions about your account to complex issues or extensive tax problems.
Let Tax Experts Lead the Way
Pandemic-related changes to IRS operations have created an environment in which taxpayers need to be both informed and prepared. As you determine the best way to communicate with the IRS this year, be sure to have an experienced tax team in your corner.
Tax professionals are not only up to date on current tax laws, but they understand the best ways to work with the IRS, negotiate on your behalf and potentially reduce your overall tax burden. In other words, the right tax experts can not only lead the way on tax issues but can also provide you with peace of mind.
At Franskoviak Tax Solutions, we have helped thousands of clients with tax planning for more than 30 years. We provide comprehensive tax services with first-class expertise and a personalized, boutique-style approach. Speak to our team about personal and business taxes, IRS tax deadlines, payroll taxes, IRS tax relief, and tax problems such as IRS tax notifications, payroll tax debt, delinquent taxes, and more.
Start with a free consultation—we’re here to help you communicate with the IRS, negotiate on your behalf, and reduce the amount of IRS tax debt you may owe.