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Why IRS customer service is bad (and may get worse)

If you have a question about your taxes, here's a tip: Be prepared to be very patient.

The Internal Revenue Service answered a smaller share of taxpayer calls and kept taxpayers on hold longer last year than in other recent years, a new report finds. What's more, budget cuts could make it hard for taxpayers to get help this year as well.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The IRS could answer only 61 percent of the calls it received from taxpayers during the 2013 fiscal year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said in a report released to Congress on Jan. 9.

That means that the rest of the calls—about 20 million—just didn't get through, the independent taxpayer advocate said.

(Read more: Identity thieves gear up to steal your tax refund)

Taxpayers who got help had to wait a long time for it. The taxpayer advocate said callers who got through were on hold for an average of nearly 18 minutes before talking to a customer service representative during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

The level of service is a sharp drop from a decade ago. In the 2004 fiscal year, the IRS answered nearly 9 in 10 calls, and the average wait time was less than three minutes, according to the taxpayer advocate, an independent voice in the IRS that works on behalf of taxpayers.

Olson blamed a lack of resources. The overall IRS budget has been cut every year since the 2010 fiscal year, her report said, and the amount allocated for training has been slashed significantly as part of that.

It's not likely that things will get better this year. The spending bill passed by the House and Senate last week includes another cut to the IRS budget, even as the tax man grapples with problems including the continued threat of identity theft tax fraud.


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