Tax Day 2022 is almost here. But just when many Americans need answers the most, communicating with the Internal Revenue Service can be more difficult than ever.
Need to send a letter to the IRS? The added workload due to the pandemic has left the agency with a paper backlog of more than 20 million tax returns, amended returns and correspondence. On March 17, Commissioner Chuck Rettig told members of Congress that even if the IRS uses extraordinary measures, the backlog will not be cleared until the end of the year. The agency, he said, tackles pileups on a first-in, first-out basis.
It’s also nearly impossible to call the IRS unless you have a specific number for an audit or notice. For the fiscal year ended September 30, 2021, only about one in 10 calls to the agency’s customer service line reached a representative after call volume nearly tripled during the year, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins. The lines are still clogged.
A third barrier to communication relates to taxpayer access to key records. The old IRS system for retrieving such information had such stringent registration requirements to prevent fraud that it rejected more than half of applicants, including Ms Collins.
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To expand access, the agency turned to a federally-certified provider, ID.me, to verify the identity of filers seeking their records. Then, in February, controversy erupted over ID.me’s requirement that these taxpayers provide a selfie of their face as “biometric” data to help prove their identity.
After protests from members of Congress and privacy experts about the dangers of collecting biometric data, ID.me offered an alternative verification that includes an online interview. He also said he would delete the facial images he had already collected.
While some ID.me users don’t object to this process, others have found it difficult and clumsy, taking hours. (ID.me said the average wait recently was 16 minutes.) Some people don’t like to entrust sensitive personal information to a private company.
Eileen Santman, a retired IT manager living in Claremont, North Carolina, was told by her tax preparation firm to get verified by ID.me after her electronic return was rejected this year.
“I was extremely uncomfortable with it, especially the facial scan. There are so many hacks and people using information inappropriately,” she says.
IRS officials are currently working on a government alternative to ID.me, but it won’t be ready for months. Meanwhile, the controversy has caused confusion, prompting reports that people need a selfie to file tax returns, which is not true.
Here’s what to know about communicating with the IRS at a difficult time. Above all, avoid sending the paper from the agency which adds to the pileup.
File your taxes
Not much has changed on this front. Most taxpayers continue to file online, as they have for years, through professional tax preparers, commercial tax preparation firms, or the IRS Free File.
One exception is new victims of tax-related identity theft, in which fraudsters steal tax information to file fake refund claims. These filers typically need to verify their identity with the IRS, often through ID.me or, if they are already registered, the IRS’ legacy system. It’s also possible to get verified in person at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center, although getting an appointment can be time-consuming.
Taxpayers whose 2020 returns have not yet been processed face a different problem. They cannot enter their 2020 adjusted gross income as required to file 2021 returns online, so the IRS advises these individuals to file online and enter $0 for the previous year’s AGI .
Filing a paper return is still permitted, and a few filers need to do so for various reasons. The backlog will delay the processing of these returns, although the accompanying checks will soon be cashed.
Make tax payments
Filers do not need to be verified through ID.me or the old IRS system to pay taxes. Instead, you can pay by bank transfer when filing the return or write a check.
You can also use IRS Direct Pay, a secure online service, or the electronic federal tax payment system. For Eftps, taxpayers must register and receive a PIN, which can take around a week. It is even possible to pay the IRS in cash at some retailers.
Checking the changed refund or return status
It can also be easy to verify refunds or amended returns through special IRS portals by providing three data points. For a tax refund, this is a social security number, filing status, and exact refund amount.
Checking your IRS transcript, such as for child tax credit payments
A taxpayer’s transcript, which is a secure online file of personal tax data, contains key information that includes stimulus payments and child tax credit advance payments needed to file the 2021 returns. who have misplaced letters from the IRS detailing these payments, or who believe the letters are in error, can check their transcripts.
The IRS requires new applicants who wish to access transcripts online to verify their identity through ID.me. It is also possible, if slower, to receive a transcription by email without going through ID.me. Details of this process are available at IRS.gov/individuals/get-transcript.
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Dealing with an Incorrect Notice from the IRS
Due to the backlog, many taxpayers whose 2020 returns have not been processed received threatening notices that the IRS had not received their return, even though it had collected a tax payment. from them.
In early February, the IRS stopped sending several types of notices until it processed unprocessed returns. He also said taxpayers don’t need to call or write to respond to misguided notices.
Contact the Taxpayer Defense Service
The Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS, is an independent unit within the IRS responsible for resolving the toughest tax issues and also assisting taxpayers who are in financial difficulty due to taxes. It is led by Ms. Collins and can be reached at www.irs.gov/taxpayer-advocate.
However, TAS cannot resolve a problem until a tax return has been entered into the IRS system. Because it takes 10 months or more to process paper returns, many people who filed on paper are not yet eligible for CAS assistance.
Write to Laura Saunders at [email protected]
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