IRS Help Line Is Out Of Service

By :: July 7th, 2014

The IRS is getting a lot of flak these days about lost emails and alleged politically motivated activity. But last week I ran into a problem that hit much closer to home. It appears that the IRS telephone help line is out of service, at least for my basic tax question.

I needed to double-check an issue concerning withdrawals from my nonagenarian father’s IRA. IRS Publication 590 wasn’t clear so I decided to call the IRS. The experience was illuminating. Not helpful mind you, but illuminating.

The help line answered immediately—a benefit of calling well past April 15—and I painstakingly worked my way through the phone tree to get to step 5, where an option included IRAs. That sounded promising until a recording explained that IRS representatives would only answer that sort of question through April 15. After that date, the electronic voice told me, I had to use the IRS’s automated help system or see the relevant publication. Which was, of course, where I started.

I called back, this time to see if I could navigate through the phone tree to a real live person. Two more tries got me to similar dead ends. None of the paths I tried would let me talk with a live person.

Taxpayer advocate Nina Olson reports every year about how few taxpayer calls the IRS actually answers—most recently, 61 percent in 2012—so it’s no surprise that I was unsuccessful. The IRS lacks the funds to do everything Congress demands of it and customer service has suffered as a consequence.

Last week, Commissioner John Koskinen warned the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum that without additional funding, the level of phone service next year will drop to 53 percent. President Obama has done his part, asking Congress to boost the agency’s $11 billion budget more than 10 percent. But there won’t be any additional funding. In fact, House Republicans have proposed to cut the IRS budget by $340 million next year.

Olson reports the average IRS caller was on hold nearly 18 minutes before reaching someone. I suppose I was lucky—my calls all went right through. Now if only there was someone to reach.


  1. Michael Bindner  ::  2:31 am on July 8th, 2014:

    Sadly, using the budget to punish the IRS for simply existing is an old GOP trick. Of course, its not just about the money. Calling during a week that has lots of the older staff head to the beach (after all, Congress is out too) is probably not a fair test. On the more escoteric questions, I wish you luck on the automated help system – as if the pamphlet is unclear answering the question will likely invovled a policy debate and legal clearance (the same legal office that is dealing with Issa and the e-mail question and had to advise the Cincinnati office of the 501(c)(4) question. At least Issa has not asked for all of their records – which would clearly fall under executive privilege. Indeed, that should have been the strategy in dealing with Issa in the first place. On your father’s financials, I would advise consulting with a good tax attorney that handles these issues every day.

  2. Vivian Darkbloom  ::  4:54 pm on July 8th, 2014:

    Why is your automatic response that this is a funding problem?

    Also, if the Sol Price Fellow at the Tax Policy Center cannot resolve the problem by resorting himself to the Tax Code, the IRS Regulations and other relevant authority to figure the problem out, perhaps the problem is not IRS funding, but the complexity of the system we have in place. Finally, I don’t think that it is reasonable to expect that the IRS, at any level of funding, can replace the multi, multii-billion dollar tax advisory industry of accountants, lawyers, enrolled agents, etc.

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