Beavis (sans Butt-head) offers callers, uh, help? (Image via Giphy.com)
Tax identity theft concerns mean you'll have to prove to the IRS that you are you if you call the agency's tax hotline.
And if you want face-to-face help at your local Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC), you'll have to make an appointment.
Telephone tax ID issues: I know. You're already unhappy with the IRS phone hotline. The IRS knows, too.
Every filing season answering taxpayers' questions telephonically is on the agency's to-improve list. Last year, it even opened its phone lines on the Saturday (they usually take weekday-only calls) before the April filing deadline.
But…well, you know. The agency is strapped. It typically gets the same, or slightly less, funding year-after-year and staff attrition makes this taxpayer service goal harder to achieve.
And now, potential tax identity theft is making things worse.
To ensure that IRS phone reps can be confident they are talking with legitimate taxpayers, the IRS now is asking both individual filers and the tax professionals who represent then to verify their identities when they call the IRS.
Taxpayer proof required: As we head into the heart of filing season, the IRS phones will be jammed.
That's particularly true, notes the IRS, as we near the Presidents Day holiday. The days before and after the third Monday of February are the peak period for taxpayer phone calls to Uncle Sam's tax collector.
So be prepared to be on hold for a bit.
And once an IRS rep gets on the line, be prepared to prove you are who you say you are.
To do that, the IRS says have the following documents on hand before you dial 1 (800) 829-1040:
- Social Security numbers and birth dates for those who were named on the tax return in question,
- An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) letter if the taxpayer has one in lieu of a Social Security number (SSN),
- Filing status (single, head of household, married filing jointly or married filing separately),
- Your prior-year tax return in case telephone assistors need to verify taxpayer identity with information from that document before answering certain questions,
- A copy of the tax return in question and
- Any IRS letters or notices received by the taxpayer.
Taxpayer reps, too: Similar proof also must be provided by taxpayers' legally designated representatives when they ho call the IRS about their clients' issues.
Before calling about another person's tax case, be sure to have the following information available:
- Verbal or written authorization from the third-party (i.e., the taxpayer you're representing) to discuss the account,
- The ability to verify the taxpayer's name, SSN or ITIN, tax period and tax form(s) filed,
- Your Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) or PIN if a third-party designee,
- A current, completed and signed Form 8821, Tax Information Authorization or
- A completed and signed Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative.
And because tax identity thieves sometimes steal info used by individuals who've passed away, be prepared to answer IRS question about a deceased taxpayer but via fax, not phone. In these cases, you'll need to fax the IRS:
- The deceased taxpayer's death certificate and
- Either copies of Letters Testamentary approved by the court, or IRS Form 56, Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship (for estate executors).
Personal help procedures: Some folks aren't content with a call for tax help. They want to talk in person with an IRS representative when they're trying to decipher a confusing filing situation.
That's possible if you live near one of the agency's Taxpayer Assistance Centers, or TACs. You can find the TAC nearest you by using the IRS.gov's online Contact Your Local Office search tool.
In addition to providing your TAC's address, the search engine shows the office's days and hours of operation and lists the services provided. Services are limited and vary at each TAC.
Note that TACs — like the IRS telephone centers — experience peak demand in the days around Presidents Day.
To counter that crunch, as well as facilitate visits to the IRS branch offices throughout the rest of the filing season, TAC staffers now provide taxpayer help by appointment only. Walk-ins are not accepted.
Once you know which TAC you'll go to, you can schedule an appointment by calling the toll-free appointment line at 1 (844) 545-5640.
And when you go to your TAC appointment, you'll be asked to provide valid photo identification and a Social Security number or ITIN.
Try online first: To avoid the hassle of a long telephone hold or an appointment several days or weeks down the road, the IRS for years has been encouraging us to try its online help services first.
The IRS says its studies show most taxpayers visit a TAC to make payments, ask about a notice or letter they received, check on refunds, get a transcript or obtain a tax form. Many of those issues, however, can be resolved online without traveling to an IRS office.
Taxpayers who head to TACs to make in-person monthly or quarterly tax payments, for example, should consider electronic options, says the IRS. These tax payments can be made from your own home by going online to IRS Direct Pay or the agency's Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).
As for filing help, the IRS recommends Free File. The tax software provides who offer their programs at no cost to more than 70 percent of taxpayers generally guide filers through the Form 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ) form completion and subsequent e-filing of the finished returns.
Taxpayers seeking free in-person tax preparation assistance should explore the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.
And if you're simply wanting to know when you'll get your federal tax refund, may be found on IRS.gov. The quickest way to check the status of a tax refund is to go to "Where's My Refund?" or call 800-829-1954 for automated phone service.
Solving tax matters using online services means TAC appointments and help phone lines are available for taxpayers who find that the only way to solve their tax problems is to visit or call the IRS.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Looking for tax help in lots of online places
- 6 ways to get electronic tax help from the IRS
- 6 ways to pay your estimated taxes