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IRS customer service about to get worse

Budget cuts mean taxpayers who need help will spend more time waiting on the phone.

By MSN Money producer Jan 20, 2014 3:17PM

By Allison Linn, CNBC CNBC.com


If you have a question about your taxes, here's a tip: Be prepared to be very patient. 


The Internal Revenue Service answered a smaller share of taxpayer calls and kept taxpayers on hold longer last year than in other recent years, a new report finds. What's more, budget cuts could make it hard for taxpayers to get help this year as well.


Angry man © Imagesource/CorbisThe IRS could answer only 61 percent of the calls it received from taxpayers during the 2013 fiscal year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said in a report released to Congress on Jan. 9. 


That means that the rest of the calls -- about 20 million -- just didn't get through, the independent taxpayer advocate said. 


Taxpayers who got help had to wait a long time for it. The taxpayer advocate said callers who got through were on hold for an average of nearly 18 minutes before talking to a customer service representative during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. 


The level of service is a sharp drop from a decade ago. In the 2004 fiscal year, the IRS answered nearly 9 in 10 calls, and the average wait time was less than three minutes, according to the taxpayer advocate, an independent voice in the IRS that works on behalf of taxpayers. 


Olson blamed a lack of resources. The overall IRS budget has been cut every year since the 2010 fiscal year, her report said, and the amount allocated for training has been slashed significantly as part of that. 


It's not likely that things will get better this year. The spending bill passed by the House and Senate last week includes another cut to the IRS budget, even as the tax man grapples with problems including the continued threat of identity theft tax fraud.

Given its limited resources, the IRS said that in 2014 it will stop preparing tax returns for people who need help, such as those who are elderly or disabled. The agency also plans to answer only "basic" tax law questions, and only during the normal filing season through April 15. Instead, it will direct people to the website and other automated sources of information. 


"(I)t is a sad state of affairs when the government writes tax laws as complex as ours -- and then is unable to answer any questions beyond 'basic' ones from baffled citizens who are doing their best to comply," Olson said in the report.  


In a statement in response to the taxpayer advocate report, the agency said: "The IRS continues to make progress on a number of the critical issues outlined in the Advocate's report. It is important to note that the IRS must carefully balance limited resources to meet its dual mission of providing taxpayer service and enforcing the tax laws."  


Outside experts say the lack of help is a concern both for taxpayers and for the government, which may not get all the money it should if people file their taxes incorrectly.  


"It's a lose-lose situation," said Nina Crimm, a professor at St. John's University School of Law and an expert on tax issues. "It's a lose situation for … the average taxpayer, and it's a lose situation for compliance and collection of revenues."  


Crimm's advice: Get started on your taxes early this year, so you aren't frantically trying to reach the IRS on April 14.  


"They better start calling now," she said.  


More from CNBC: 

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

33Comments
Jan 20, 2014 3:37PM
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Is that possible?   I guess you only get decent customer service if you are on their White House enemies list...

Even though we have people admitting felons were committed, not a single IRS employee has been fired or JAILED for obeying Obama's orders to violate the law and go after people who are not democrats...
Jan 20, 2014 4:16PM
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Worse than what?  Too funny!  These are the folks that are in charge of your health care now, you'd better buck up!!
Jan 20, 2014 3:34PM
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"...about to get worse."??????? When was it better?????
Jan 20, 2014 6:31PM
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Is this not the same government agency that spent millions of dollars on extravagant parties and seminars last year and got chastised for the same.  How many agents (customer service representatives) could have been hired for the millions blown on fun and games for the elite of the agency, 500, maybe a 1,000?  They have no one to blame but themselves for the whacking their budget took in light of their abuses of the funds they were allotted to perform their duties.
Jan 20, 2014 5:25PM
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Everyone including Democrats wants to minimize their tax payments without breaking the law.  The last thing the IRS wants to help you do, in my experience.  No matter which direct question you ask, you are unable to get a straight answer and will in all likelihood be referred to another "expert" who, after you wait 40 minutes for him to answer, will be unable to assist you.
Jan 20, 2014 6:18PM
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This reminds me of that Obama stick I saw on Amazon.  It said "Bend over, the change is coming."

Jan 20, 2014 4:54PM
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Most democrats don't need to worry about the IRS. They are much more concerned about budget cuts.
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IRS and customer service in the same sentence is like one of those Morons riding an Ox......

Or was it the ox riding the moron??

Kinda like advertising self service embalming......


Jan 20, 2014 5:46PM
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It's hard to get worse than already awful and inexcusably inept.
Jan 21, 2014 7:46AM
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The IRS is run by the government and staffed by bureaucrats, so mediocre is the best you can expect.
Jan 21, 2014 9:18AM
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That's almost impossible. I know. I just spent the last 9 months dealing with them and still don't have an answer to my question.
Jan 21, 2014 11:08AM
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More change for the worse.  We're all being fleeced by the DC leadership, or better yet, due to the abject lack thereof.
Jan 21, 2014 12:57PM
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Taxes on wages (in any form – flat or progressive) are the greatest evil of our American Republic. When government is free to steal from you, there are no limits to waste and abuse in government. If a person chooses to work extra hours or two jobs in order to better provide for themselves or their family, they should not be penalized, but that is what happens. The more you make by working harder and longer, the more money is stolen from you, and given to those who spend their lives living off the hard work of others.

The revenue the government needs to provide legitimate constitutional services should be obtained primarily from a national sales tax instead of a tax on wages. All would pay based on consumption, the more you spend the more you pay. The more luxury you surround yourself with, the more you pay. Your choice. A national sales tax system would capture money spent by criminals and by illegal aliens who currently pay near zero in taxes. There would of course need to be exemptions: Cars (already have a federal excise tax) Primary Residence/Rental Properties (vacation homes would be subject to tax/rental profit would be taxed) Fresh Food (Preprocessed foods and prepared meals would be taxed – only fresh/fresh frozen/canned goods would be exempt) Insurance Premiums, Health Care & Certified Education.

Adding another layer of tax to a business would not be fair. Businesses would need to be compensated by keeping a portion of the tax to cover the expense of collection and reporting. A percentage of .20 to .05 would be fair.

 

 

Jan 21, 2014 12:25PM
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This is a total lie, there is no way customer service from Kaneeshia could get any worse. Have you tried it lately?
Jan 21, 2014 2:22PM
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Another blatant, glaring reason to simplify the tax code. When its own employees,yes the "HELPERS", cannot give you a correct answer, something is fishy in the kitchen!!
Jan 21, 2014 12:33PM
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So how many IRS employees do you think it would it take to toss the entire 74,000 page tax code in the dumpster?
FLAT TAX.........PLEASE!
Jan 21, 2014 12:16PM
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Well, at 1108 hrs scumbags called to accelerate the selling so we are down triple digits...Folks, this has absolutely nothing to do with news or earnings, its pure market manipulation; we saw this coming last week when they were not able to drop the markets as much as they wanted to...Now all we can do is try to minimize the damage this afternoon....Sadly cheaters are still kings on Wall Street.
Jan 21, 2014 11:24AM
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Yes, the futures were way up, especially the Dow, but, you know what happens to them after the bell rings and today sadly once again we have plenty of manipulators starting to do their thing so we are in the red already and the S&P and Nasdaq may follow suit soon....We warned you last week, crooks didn't have the week they wanted so they would come out swinging this morning....Oh well, cheating rules once again on Wall Street....Still very early, we will see what can be done...More later
Jan 21, 2014 10:13AM
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And yet the managers still get bonuses.
Jan 21, 2014 10:28AM
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If Congress makes the right budget cuts, it won't be the Democrats that are complaining.  Social welfare is no more hideous than Corporate welfare. 
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