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The IRS has dialed back a number of taxpayer services amid the coronavirus outbreak, including cutting staffing for phone lines and leaving much of the mail it receives unopened. The agency recently recalled some employees to work, but it could still be hard to get through to someone this tax season.
Good news: You still have some options if you need help.
Held up: Processing paper tax returns
What it means: “If you've already filed a paper return, you just have to stay put and wait for them to process the return, and hopefully they'll do that eventually,” says Adrian Alfonso, a certified public accountant at Kaufman Rossin in Miami.
What you can try instead: If you haven’t filed yet (the deadline this year is July 15), be sure to do it electronically. The IRS Free File program and most major tax prep companies can hook you up with free tax software depending on your adjusted gross income or tax situation.
And if you already mailed in a paper tax return, don’t file another return electronically — that’ll only cause more problems, Alfonso says.
Dialed back: Staffing for IRS customer service phone lines
What it means: If you dial one of the many IRS phone numbers set up for various questions and issues, you might have trouble getting somebody to answer.
What you can try instead: The IRS’ automated phone lines are still open, though they’re largely for basic tasks. You can also try calling the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which is an independent organization within the IRS set up to help taxpayers work with the IRS. Although their physical offices are closed, they’re still taking phone calls.
Closed temporarily: Local IRS offices
What it means: For now, nobody’s home at IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers across the country.
What you can try instead: IRS.gov has answers about tax rules and how to do a variety of tasks on your own, such as track a refund or stimulus check, sign up for an installment plan or get a tax transcript. If you need help from a human or the situation is complicated, you can call a tax pro, says Marty Davidoff, a certified public accountant and partner at Prager Metis in Cranbury, New Jersey. “We're talking to people. We're getting stuff done,” he says.
Backlogged: Written correspondence
What it means: The IRS is still getting mail, but fewer people are around to deal with it. In some cases, the IRS says, correspondence sent to their offices might even be returned if the office is closed and no one is there to accept the mail. Accordingly, the paper-based back-and-forth associated with amended tax returns, identity theft, some audits, offers in compromise and powers of attorney may take a long time.
What you can try instead: Send your correspondence via certified mail so at least you know it got there, Davidoff says.
For truly pressing matters such as identity theft, try calling the Taxpayer Advocate Service. “It's going to become a bigger nightmare and you're going to have to try to get to a taxpayer advocate to deal with it if it's urgent, if it can't wait,” he says.