It’s Tax Day and hopefully, you have already filed your tax returns. Maybe you will receive a refund or maybe–like me–you will be writing Uncle Sam a big check.

If you have not filed yet and have questions, good luck trying to get someone on the phone at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Heres’ why.

1 out of 9 taxpayer calls get answered

The IRS answered only 11 percent of phone calls during the last tax season. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report to Congress, the last tax filing season was woeful and this year’s season will be even worse.

In FY 2021, the IRS received about 282 million telephone calls, but customer service representatives only answered about 32 million (11 percent) of those calls. Hold times averaged 23 minutes, but practitioners and taxpayers–myself included–have reported wait times that were often much longer.

Imagine if your favorite retailer answered 11 percent of customer calls, your favorite restaurant picked up 11 percent of the time, or a hotel answered just one out of every nine calls to make a reservation. All of those scenarios would be intolerable to customers; the businesses would go down pretty quickly.

More disturbingly, imagine if 9-1-1 dispatch only answered 11 percent of the emergency calls that came in. This would be a public safety crisis and downright deadly as endangered, sick, and injured citizens would face dire odds every time they called for help. 

Yet, leaving the lion’s share of taxpayers’ calls unanswered is just another day at the IRS.

At least other service providers have functioning websites that customers can use to process transactions from purchases and reservations to returns or get basic questions answered. 

The IRS’s website allows taxpayers to view the status of a return and make payments. That’s about it. The “Wheres My Refund Tool” is extremely limited. “It just reflects that the return has been received, that the refund was approved, or that the refund was sent,” said National Taxpayer Advocate, Erin M. Collins, in her report. “For millions of taxpayers, that meant many months without any status updates, and some are still waiting for their refunds.”

Why the woeful customer service record?

The IRS faces a severe backlog of tax returns–more than 6 million unprocessed individual tax returns and 2.8 million business returns–as of mid-December. 

All of the COVID-19 pandemic tax changes-from stimulus checks (aka Economic Impact Payments) to expanded child tax credit payments–have complicated tax returns. The National Taxpayer Advocate also blames underfunding and the IRS’s inability to staff up. As Congress and the administration mull the ill-advised idea of more stimulus payments or other aid, they should consider how the burden of administering aid falls to an already overwhelmed IRS infrastructure.

What can you do?

Plan on filing today? Here’s some advice:

  1. File online. The IRS processed most e-filed tax returns timely. Most taxpayers (nine out of ten) e-file using online software because it’s efficient, more accurate, and faster. However, some forms, schedules, and documents are not available online. (This is an area for reform that the IRS should tackle.)
  2. Be patient. Paper returns have been taking up to at least eight months to process. Amended and business returns are all incurring delays. Processing delays mean delays in getting that refund.
  3. Be persistent. You may need to call often to reach a representative. Also, try calling either very early in the morning to get a good place in the line or just before the phone lines close for the day (although that’s probably not a good idea on the last filing day). 

Postponing filing and other deadlines

Usually, Tax Day is April 15th, but this year it has been postponed to April 18, 2022. That means a few other deadlines have also been pushed back according to the IRS website:

  • Postponing filing: Taxpayers can request an extension until October 17, using Form 4868. Note that “an extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay,” the IRS says. Taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and pay any amount due by the 
  • IRA Contributions: April 18 is the deadline to make 2021 contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
  • Employment taxes: April 18 is the deadline to pay employment taxes for household employees such as housekeepers, maids, babysitters, gardeners, etc. if they were paid $2,300. 
  • Other states: Taxpayers in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 19, 2022, to file their returns due to the Patriots’ Day holiday in those states.
  • Q1 estimated taxes: The first quarter estimated tax payment for 2022 is also due on April 18. 

Tax Day need not be stressful as one waits on the phone in hopes of speaking with an agent. Hopefully, this information helps those burning the midnight oil to get their tax filing in.  

For those who are already done, file this away for next year.