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Welcome our IRS robot overlords

By Kay Bell ·
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Posted: 7 am ET

Americans' lives have become more automated. The IRS has decided to follow that trend. There's another reason for the change to a less-personal touch: money.

The IRS has announced that with the 2014 tax filing season it will be offering more automated self-service options.

Among the areas that will be affected are three of particular interest every year to taxpayers:

  • Tax return preparation.
  • Tax law questions.
  • Tax refund inquiries.

Less personal return help

The IRS says that resource constraints -- that's the tax agency euphemism for not enough money from Congress -- already have led to fewer tax returns being prepared at the IRS' 250 walk-in offices, known as Taxpayer Assistance Centers, or TACs.

So it's not a big step to reduce the person-to-person Form 1040 help further.

When the tax season opens on Jan. 31, 2014, the IRS will direct taxpayers who meet the income limits to the more than 13,000 volunteer tax assistance sites across the country with which it partners. These are typically VITA, or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, programs. The IRS website has a special page where you can find a VITA resource in your area.

The IRS also points to the Free File program, which again will offer free tax software and electronic filing to eligible taxpayers.

Limited personal tax law assistance

The IRS gets lots of questions about tax law each year, but it says most inquiries are about basic issues: filing status, dependents, exemptions and taxable income. The IRS says it will continue to answer these basic questions during the 2014 filing season.

Taxpayers with more detailed tax law questions, however, will be referred to other resources available on the IRS website, covered in IRS publications and answered by software packages that the taxpayers may already be using.

This decision was made, says the IRS, in part because more than 90 percent of taxpayers use tax return preparation software, either on their own or through their tax professional, and the tax law help is included as part of the software.

Where's your refund?

The IRS say the most common inquiry it gets year after year is, "When will I get my refund?"

Three weeks or less has generally been the time frame for issuance of more than 90 percent of tax refunds, the IRS says. During the first 21 days that taxpayers are awaiting their refunds, the IRS says it will direct refund status questions to its "Where's My Refund?" online search tool. The refund tracker is available in English and Spanish through the IRS2Go phone app, and the agency's automated telephone service.

IRS customer service agents will research a refund's status only if it is 21 days or more since the taxpayer e-filed the return or more than six weeks since a paper return was mailed.

The IRS says this shift to automated services will allow employees, either on the phone or in person, to help with issues that cannot be resolved through other avenues.

Do you expect the IRS' move to more automation to work fine for you? Or will you have problems getting your taxes done next filing season because of these changes?


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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book "The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes" and co-author of the e-book "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."

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Dale Johnson
December 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

I work in the Lien Unit of the IRS and find that most people with Federal Tax Lien are poorly informed about their options to mitigate the negative influence of the Liens that they can do themselves without costly representation. It is a sad reality of specialization that advice given by someone not in the Lien Dept. is far less likely to be accurate and up-to-date than if you call us. GO to the IRS.GOV website, type LIENS in the search area for general information. In the past 2 years the Fresh Start Iniative has been rolled out, and recently commercials have appeared on radio and tv from companies willing to take a few thousand of your dollars to do what you can do by yourself - maybe a few phone calls will be necessary, but in most cases the Lien Dept. 1-800-913-6050 can look up their accounts, explain the options that can mitigate some of the harshest, and lonbgest lasting consequences of Liens being attached to your property deeds at the county or state recording offices. If you have a hardship that the LIEN exacerbates, there are several options to handle them. If you want to refinance your mortgage, apply for a Subordination -PUB 784, or to sell your home with a lien and money is not available to fully pay the taxes owed, apply for a Certificate of Disscharge PUB 783. If you have a lien and want to obtain a new Mortgage, get PUB 785 -Purchase Money for Mortages & Subordination of NFTL and you will obtain a 1-page concise description of the Super Periority status of a New Mortgage that trumps the Lien. If you have a direct debit Installment Agreement, under a few simple steps you can have the lien removed from the public record (ie Withdrawn) and the Credt Bureaus will have to remove it from your records. This does not reduce or remove your tax obligation, but your credit score should improve. If the LIEN has already been full paid and released, it often stays on your Credit Report for up to 7 years. It can be withdrawn with Form 12277 sent to the Collection Advisory Group with contact information in Publication 4235 from the IRS website. Keep up-to-date on the IRS WEBSITE AS ENHANCEMENTs to the Fresh Start Initiative are continuing to be issued.