This week, the IRS is urging taxpayers to get ready for the season – file electronically, keep track of notices in the mail this month, that sort of thing.
But the agency also says it can’t do everything. The IRS is still behind in responding to taxpayer calls and inquiries this past year. How will it manage a new tax season, and what’s the backlog like for taxpayers?
Last year during tax season, the IRS phone systems received more than four times the number of calls it usually does. And many people don’t get through.
“It’s nuts,” said Lisa Edgecomb, a tax preparer in Colorado. “Like you call in, and you put it on speakerphone, and you walk away.”
Part of the problem, said Howard Gleckman with the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, is that the IRS employs tens of thousands of people.
“And getting those people to work for a relatively low pay at what is, you know, not the most exciting job in the world is not easy right now,” he said.
Another issue, Gleckman said, is the agency’s outdated technology.
“It sounds like a joke, but it’s actually true that one of the reasons why the IRS data system is so difficult to hack is because it’s so outdated. It uses computer programming language that no one remembers anymore,” he said.
The IRS requested a budget increase for 2022 year to upgrade technology and increase staffing. And with the pandemic, the IRS suddenly had new responsibilities. It had to distribute stimulus payments and the advance child tax credit, said Erica York with the Tax Foundation.
“All of that goes far beyond collecting revenue, and it requires a lot more resources than what the IRS has right now,” she said.
That’s why the agency is urging people to get organized, said USC accounting professor Greg Kling.
“I would say it’s a way to brace the taxpayer. This is how the busy season is gonna look. We’re underfunded, we have issues, you know, please do all that you can,” he said.
In the meantime, when tax preparer Edgecomb does have to get on the line with someone from the IRS, she’s empathetic.
“I can sort of hear the tiredness in their voice when they answer,” she said.
Her tack is to try to get them to laugh before talking taxes.
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