The IRS has been in the news so much recently. If you have filed a tax return this year, you may have personal knowledge that not all is running smoothly with the IRS. Haven’t received your refund? Haven’t had your tax payment check cashed or properly associated with your account? Your return hasn’t been processed? You’ve tried calling multiple times only to receive a message that phone lines are too busy for your call? Sadly, you are in the same company as literally millions of other taxpayers, and the situation is only getting worse.
As is becoming more apparent to those outside the IRS, while much of the rest of the country was busy figuring out to how function in a pandemic last year, the IRS was essentially…not functioning. The untimely tax return processing times and unanswered phone calls have only increased in 2021, with no end in sight. Both paper-filed and electronically filed tax returns are not being timely processed with various “quality control” hold ups lasting not just weeks, but months. Non-payment notices are being issued while the checks in question were mailed to the IRS months ago. The IRS answered only 2% of calls to its individual tax line this past tax filing season.
The IRS remains a broken government agency while Congress gives it more and more tax and non-tax responsibilities including adjusting filed tax returns for retroactive tax law changes, sending out pandemic assistance relief payments, and now issuing advanced child credit payments. Much of this additional work is processed by hand due to antiquated, inadequate technology infrastructure. While lawmakers consider an increase in the IRS’ budget to “go after the wealthy” who aren’t paying “their fair share,” let’s all hope they will keep in mind that untold numbers of US taxpayers are continually negatively impacted by outdated IRS processes and lack of customer service. Should the top earners have a higher chance of IRS examination and should funding go toward this goal? I don’t think this is unreasonable and certainly these folks can best afford “armies of attorneys and accountants” to help them. What is problematic is the lack of political interest in investing in the IRS for it to become a more taxpayer-friendly agency for everyone else.
Further, some of the frustrating hold ups we’re seeing right now are inflicted by the IRS itself. For example, it continues to send out notices that it can’t address by phone or mail. An “Urgent, Contact Us Now” notice is met with an automated voicemail stating lines are full and try back another day. No doubt decades of underfunding created a blazing fire before 2020, but the IRS is adding gasoline to this fire itself. So, in the end, would more funding for up-to-date technology and improved customer service help? I’m undecided. In all seriousness, can money buy common sense?
For a more thorough discussion of just how bad things are at the IRS, absolutely check out this recent article by Nina Olson, former National Taxpayer Advocate and all-around tax-do-gooder. As a long-time insider who has fought an uphill battle for taxpayer rights, she knows exactly what’s going on, what’s causing it, and how to fix it. There’s no good news here; for those struggling with the IRS, the battle will continue.