The new commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service kicked off the filing season for 2013 tax returns Friday with a simple message: Don’t call, but do click.
After budget cuts in the so-called federal “sequester” the IRS budget is back to where it was last year. But, noted Commissioner John Koskinen, “We have 8,000 fewer people now than we had in 2010, and there are more taxpayers, if nothing else.”
The result was that last year, nearly 40 percent of all calls to the IRS went unanswered. This year, Koskinen hopes to boost the answered calls rate from 61 percent. “We could get as high as 70 percent, which we would love to do, but that still means that millions of calls are going unanswered.”
In addition to tax filing, the IRS is also involved with enforcing part of the Affordable Care Act and scrutinizing overseas banking that can be used to avoid taxes. Beside long wait times for phone calls, Koskinen noted that the agency has stopped having agents assist low- and middle-income taxpayers with filing their returns at IRS offices.
“If people are trying to pay their taxes they ought to not have to stand in line or hang on the phone for hours,” Koskinen said.
Picking up some of the slack is the extended online services that the IRS offers, including the option to check on the status of refunds, file taxes online (free to the majority of taxpayers), and a new service that allows taxpayers to request copies of back tax returns online instead of calling.
Tax filing season opened late this year because of delays caused by the 16-day federal government shutdown, causing the IRS to postpone accepting returns by 10 days.
Taxpayers have 75 days between now and April 15 to file and pay. The IRS expects to receive more than 148 million individual tax returns this year, with more than four out of five returns filed electronically.
“We’re confident the filing season is going to go well,” Koskinen said.