If you're not at your office this Presidents Day holiday, chances are you are working on your taxes.
This three-day February weekend typically marks the beginning of the busiest time of the annual tax filing season. By now, the 1099s and W2s and other statements needed to fill out returns are in most taxpayers hands.
And when folks start workings on their 1040s, even with software help, they tend to have questions.
That's why this week, according to the Internal Revenue Service, also is one of the busiest times for the IRS' telephone lines.
Before the 2015 filing season even started, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson warned that phone service this year would be spotty at best.
To avoid telephonic frustrations, the commissioner recommends that taxpayers with filing questions turn to their computers or other Internet connected devices instead.
"The entire week of the Presidents Day holiday marks a peak time in the number of calls to the IRS, and we encourage taxpayers to visit IRS.gov as the best place to get quick help and answers to your questions," says Koskinen.
Here are six online help options for common tax queries this time of year.
1. Tax refund tracking: The IRS says that despite its reduced services due to Congressional budget cuts, most tax refunds still are issued in less than 21 days. Want to know where in that time frame your refund is? Use the online Where's My Refund? tool. It's available on the IRS website as well as the agency's IRS2Go smartphone app.
2. Old filing documents: Do you need a copy of previous filings? Old returns or the details from them contained on tax transcripts often are used to validate income and tax filing status for mortgage, student and small business loan applications, as well as to help with tax preparation. You can get a tax transcript online using the IRS' Get Transcript application. If you need a full return, you can download Form 4506-T and mail it to the IRS.
3. Affordable Care Act effects: Wondering what the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, will mean to your tax return? While almost all taxpayers must do something related to new health care reporting requirements, the good news is that most of us -- the IRS says more than three out of four filers -- will simply need to check a box to verify that we have health insurance coverage.
Folks who got their coverage via the marketplace, however, will have to deal with the premium tax credit, whether they got advance payment or are just now applying for it. Those who opted not to buy medical insurance will need to determine whether they are exempt or must pay the shared responsibility penalty. The IRS has a variety of special Web pages that walk you through ACA provisions and their effects on your tax return.
4. Other tax law queries: The Internal Revenue Code is huge and complicated, so you likely will have questions about tax laws beyond Obamacare. Rather than wait on hold to talk to an IRS representative, try out the agency's online Interactive Tax Assistant. It's designed to take you through a series of questions just like those that a real-life IRS representative would ask.
You also can:
- Do a keyword search on IRS.gov to find more on your filing question.
- Check out IRS Publication 17, which now is available only online. The electronic version of the annual tax guide more easily searchable than thumbing through paper pages.
- Call TeleTax at 1-800-829-4477 for recorded information on a variety of general and business tax topics.
5. Tax preparation help: Free File is available to folks with adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. The no-cost tax prep and e-filing options provided by 14 software manufacturers work well for millions of filers each year.
If, however, you want more personalized help, check out one of the IRS' local community partners that operate roughly 13,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites nationwide. Find a location near you via the VITA/TCE online search tool.
6. Ways to pay: If your tax filing problem really is a tax paying problem, the IRS has online help here, too. The agency's Online Payment Agreement tool can help you quickly determine whether you qualify for an installment agreement with the IRS.
Is your tax bill is even more serious, the IRS' online Offer in Compromise (OIC) Pre-Qualifier can help you find out if you qualify for this deal where the IRS that settles your tax liability for less than the full amount owed. (Note: the IRS is tweaking its OIC tool for 2015; check the main OIC page for adjustments to make until the modifications are complete.)
The IRS and I know that these half dozen online help options won't work for everyone. If these cases, you'll just need some extra patience as you wait for one-on-one phone aid.
But here's hoping that for many folks, some of these types of electronic IRS assistance will do the job.
You also might find these items of interest:
- No IRS help for tax pros on Saturdays or holidays in 2015
- Free tax preparation, e-filing also available in some states
- Don't miss the Daily Tax Tips: January, February 2015 tips are live