The Internal Revenue Service is the one federal agency out of many that the average American interacts with the most. Because of its unique position as the nation’s tax collector, millions of Americans are required to deal with the IRS on a yearly basis.
For the last decade, as tax laws have become more complex, IRS budgets have actually gone down, and the agency currently employs about 8,000 less employees than it did a decade ago. This inescapable truth means that it has gotten much harder to contact the IRS with questions, and the employees that are available to answer questions have less training and experience.
Because of this gap between tax questions and answers, the IRS has relied heavily on its website, www.IRS.gov, to take up the slack and be the chief communication point between the public and the agency. For those struggling with getting good answers this tax season, here is a guide to some of the best and most helpful features of IRS.gov.
1. http://www.irs.gov/Refunds: The “Where’s My Refund” page can save hours of holding on the phone trying to find out when you can expect your tax refund. All you need is your filing status, refund amount and Social Security number to get an instant answer.
2. http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-Transcript: If you lost your tax return, or never filed one, this link will allow you to access all tax information that the IRS has on file for you for any year. Transcripts can also be ordered through the mail. Detailed information about your identity will be needed to access this information.
3. http://www.irs.gov/uac/Interactive-Tax-Assistant-(ITA)-1: The Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) is a very helpful site that has interview checklists for nearly 25 common tax questions that can point people toward the answers they seek.
4. http://www.irs.gov/Forms-&-Pubs: If the ITA is insufficient, the Forms and Publication page is a one-stop shop for everything the IRS publishes, from one-page forms to complex publications hundreds of pages long. Publications can be downloaded in seconds, and many can be ordered through the mail for free.
5. http://taxmap.ntis.gov/taxmap/tmhome.htm: For the ultimate in tax information databases, try the Tax Map, a carefully constructed site that offers a simple search function to find answers to many questions.
6. http://www.irsvideos.gov/: If you would rather see a video explaining various tax topics instead of reading, this portal has hundreds of videos from a few minutes to several hours in length, covering topics for individuals, businesses and tax professionals.
7. http://www.irs.gov/Payments/Direct-Pay: Direct Pay was introduced in 2014 and is the first Internet portal through which taxpayers can pay their tax bills directly to the IRS with no extra fees being charged.
8. http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Online-Payment-Agreement-Application: For those who cannot pay their entire tax bill by April 15, the Online Payment Agreement is an easy way to set up monthly payments with minimal fuss. There is a one-time setup fee, but as long as payments continue you will avoid collection issues.
9. http://www.irs.gov/uac/Free-File:-Do-Your-Federal-Taxes-for-Free: Free File is a program from the IRS in partnership with online software companies. For those with simpler returns and incomes under $60,000, this link allows people to prepare their federal tax return for free. (State return filing may not be free)
10. http://www.irs.gov/Tax-Professionals/Choosing-a-Tax-Professional: If your tax situation is more complex or you don’t qualify for free file, you may want to hire a tax professional. For the first time ever, the IRS is publishing a directory of the nearly 700,000 tax professionals and their qualifications, with explanations about what the various designations mean as far as expertise and qualifications.
11. http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-(EIN)-Online: If you run a business and want to apply for an Employer ID number, this is all easily done online now in seconds. The same site can also be used to apply for an EIN for trusts and estates.
12. http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection: The IRS has a lot of new resources for the increasing problem of tax ID theft. The rise of fraudulent returns, phone scams and suspicious emails has led to this site with many helpful links to protect your identity.
IRS.gov is not as user-friendly as interacting with an actual human being, but for the foreseeable future it will be the main resource for individuals, businesses, charities and tax professionals. Things that took weeks through the mail are now done in seconds. The tax help line for the IRS is (800) 829-1040 for those who want to hear a human voice and don’t mind waiting an hour or more. For the rest of us, learning to interact with the online IRS is the best way to get answers to our questions.
Dan Connors is an enrolled agent and certified public accountant for Buenger Accounting in Granite City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.