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Tax Day Is Coming. Here’s How to Cope With the IRS.

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David M. Brenner, ChFC®, CLU®

D. M. Brenner, Inc.
Phone : (858) 345-1001
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Tax Day 2022 is nearly here. But just when many Americans most need answers, communicating with the Internal Revenue Service can be harder than ever.


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Need to send the IRS a letter? The extra workload from the pandemic has left the agency with a paper backlog of more than 20 million tax returns, amended returns and correspondence. On March 17, Commissioner Chuck Rettig told members of Congress that even though the IRS is using extraordinary measures, the backlog won’t be cleared before year-end. The agency, he said, is tackling the pileup on a first-in, first-out basis.

Calling the IRS is nearly impossible as well, unless you have a specific number for an audit or notice. For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2021, only about one in 10 calls to the agency’s customer-service line reached a representative after call volume nearly tripled during the year, according to National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins. The lines are still clogged.

A third barrier to communication involves taxpayers’ access to key records. The IRS’s legacy system for retrieving such information had such rigorous sign-up requirements to prevent fraud that it rejected more than half of applicants—including Ms. Collins.

To broaden access, the agency turned to a federally certified vendor, ID.me, to verify the identities of filers seeking their records. Then in February a controversy erupted over ID.me’s requirement that these taxpayers provide a selfie of their face as “biometric” data to help prove identity.

After protests by members of Congress and privacy specialists about the dangers of collecting biometric data, ID.me offered an alternative verification that includes an online interview. It also said it would delete the facial images it had already collected.

While some ID.me users don’t object to this process, others have found it difficult and clunky, taking hours to complete. (ID.me said the average wait recently was 16 minutes.) Some don’t like turning over sensitive personal information to a private company.

Eileen Santman, a retired IT manager living in Claremont, N.C., was told by her tax-prep firm to get verified by ID.me after her e-filed return was rejected this year.

“I was extremely uncomfortable with it, especially the facial scan. There are so many hacks and people improperly using information,” she says.

IRS officials are now working on a government alternative to ID.me, but it won’t be ready for months. Meanwhile the controversy caused confusion, prompting reports that people need a selfie to file tax returns—which isn’t true.

Here’s what to know about communicating with the IRS at a difficult time. Above all, avoid sending the agency paper that adds to the pileup.

Filing your taxes

Not much has changed on this front. Most taxpayers still e-file as they have for years—through professional preparers, commercial tax-prep firms or IRS Free File.

One exception is for new victims of tax-related identity theft, in which fraudsters steal tax information to file bogus refund claims. These filers typically must verify their identities with the IRS, often through ID.me or—if they’re already enrolled—the IRS’s legacy system. It’s also possible to get verified in person at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center, although getting an appointment could take a long time.

Taxpayers whose 2020 returns haven’t yet been processed face a different issue. They can’t enter their 2020 adjusted gross income as required to e-file 2021 returns, so the IRS is advising these people to e-file and enter $0 for the prior year’s AGI.

Mailing in a paper return is still allowed, and a few filers must do it for various reasons. The backlog will delay the processing of these returns, although checks sent with them will be cashed soon.

Making tax payments

Filers don’t need to be verified through ID.me or the IRS legacy system to pay taxes. Instead, you can pay through a bank transfer when filing the return, or write a check.

You can also use IRS Direct Pay, a secure online service, or the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. For Eftps, taxpayers must enroll and receive a PIN, which can take about a week. It’s even possible to pay the IRS in cash at certain retailers.

Checking refund or amended-return status

It also can be easy to check refunds or amended returns through special IRS portals by supplying three data points. For a tax refund, they are a Social Security Number, filing status, and exact refund amount.

Checking your IRS transcript, such as for child tax-credit payments

A taxpayer’s transcript, which is a secure online file of personal tax data, has key information that includes stimulus payments and advance payments of child tax credits needed to file 2021 returns. Filers who have misplaced IRS letters detailing these payments, or believe the letters are wrong, can check their transcripts.

The IRS directs new applicants seeking online access to transcripts to verify their identities through ID.me. It’s also possible, if slower, to receive a transcript by mail without going through ID.me. Details about that process are at IRS.gov/individuals/get-transcript.

Dealing with an incorrect IRS notice

As a result of the backlog, many taxpayers with unprocessed 2020 returns got threatening-sounding notices saying the IRS hadn’t received their return, even if it had cashed a tax payment from them.

In early February, the IRS stopped sending several types of notices until it works through the unprocessed returns. It also said taxpayers don’t need to call or write to respond to erroneous notices.

Contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service

The Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS, is an independent unit within the IRS charged with sorting out the knottiest tax problems and also with helping taxpayers experiencing financial hardships due to taxes. It is led by Ms. Collins, and can be reached at www.irs.gov/taxpayer-advocate.

However, TAS can’t help with a problem until a tax return has been entered into the IRS system. As it’s taking 10 or more months to process paper returns, many people who filed on paper aren’t yet eligible for help from TAS.

Write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com

David M. Brenner profile photo

David M. Brenner, ChFC®, CLU®

D. M. Brenner, Inc.
Phone : (858) 345-1001
Schedule a Meeting