Hello, IRS? Is anyone there?
That's what you might be asking if you call the IRS with questions about your 2013 tax return. The agency says today starts one of the busiest weeks of the tax filing season for the IRS phone lines. So make yourself comfortable and settle in. You're likely to be on hold longer than the 17.6 minutes customers waited last year to speak with someone.
You think that's bad? Some 20 million people, or 39 percent of callers, got so frustrated with the wait time that they hung up without talking to anyone, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate, the independent arm of the IRS that advocates for taxpayers.
Due to limited resources this year, the IRS says it's encouraging taxpayers to visit IRS. gov as a first stop to get quick answers to questions, or to find where to go for answers, before calling in. The agency says 1040 Central will offer a quick overview for frequently asked questions while the IRS Services Guide provides a list of resources for specific questions.
Read: Get The Tax Refund You're Owed
More than 100 million taxpayers call the IRS for help and millions more visit IRS walk-in sites or send correspondence each year. But getting help has become increasingly troublesome. A decade ago, the IRS answered some 795,000 tax law questions on site during the filing season. Last year, the National Taxpayer Advocate said, it handled about 110,000 questions, or 86 percent less.
Likewise, only 61 percent of calls from taxpayers got through to an agent during fiscal year 2013, down from 87 percent 10 years earlier, the National Taxpayer Advocate said in a report. It blamed inadequate IRS funding by Congress "as a top problem for taxpayers."
"Key metrics show the agency is increasingly unable to keep up with taxpayers' demand for help in complying with their tax obligations," the report found.
The IRS says that most refunds are issued within 21 days. For those of you who want to know the status of your refund, visit the Where's My Refund tool.
>> Sign up for the AARP Money newsletter
Among other issues:
- You didn't get a W-2 Statement of Earnings form from your employer? Check with your HR department first if it's not received by mid-February. Still a problem? Contact the IRS and it will send a letter to your employer.
- Unsure if you need to file a tax return? Do a keyword search on IRS.gov; use Publication 17, the searchable income tax guide; or check out the IRS Tax Map, which allows you to search by topic or keyword.
- Seeking a copy of a prior return? Order it on the IRS.gov website.
- Have a tax bill you can't pay? Check out the Online Payment Agreement to help you determine whether you qualify for an installment agreement with the IRS.
The IRS offers free tax return help nationwide from volunteers or search free tax help on IRS.gov. AARP also offers free tax assistance. Search by address, county or zip code for a volunteer close by.
>> Get discounts on financial services with your AARP Member Advantages.
Also of Interest
- Need Help From the IRS? Don't Hold Your Breath
- 20 Star Couples, All 50+, Who Put One Another First to Make Romance Last
- Get free assistance with tax-return preparation from Tax-Aide
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more