IRS: Don’t Call Us, Don’t Write Us

No, I’m not talking about my business: feel free to call or write us (but due to a water leak, our office is closed today, Thursday, December 8th–we’ll be in tomorrow).  Rather, I’m talking about calling the IRS and writing the IRS.

Let’s start with calling the IRS.  For tax professionals like me, we use the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS).  When we reach agents from the IRS, they can usually resolve issues, or direct us to the personnel at the IRS who can resolve our issues.  This is good for taxpayers and tax professionals.  Unfortunately, there’s a but in this: “When we reach agents from the IRS….”  The problem is reaching them.

On Tuesday, I had eight matters to resolve with the IRS (four business, four individual).  At 7am I began calling PPS (the service is open from 7am – 7pm local time).  I made 60 phone calls to PPS.  On all of them I received the message, “We’re sorry, but due to high call volume in the topic you’ve chosen we cannot take your call at the present time.  Good bye.”  On some of the calls, I also had to do simple math (add six and eight) or repeat words (a theoretical way to stop automated dialing).  All that did for me was make each call take more time to reach the “We’re sorry” message.  (I alternated attempting to reach the business and individual queues, and was equally unable to reach either.)

I am not alone in being frustrated.  The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) sent a letter to the IRS and Congress noting our frustration. One excerpt from the letter:

As you can see from the sentiments of enrolled agents across the country, accessing the PPS lines has become nearly impossible for tax professionals to gain the help they need from the IRS. We have received anecdotal evidence that less than one percent of callers can get through the PPS individual line.  [emphasis added]

Once we get through, we’re usually on hold for at least 30 minutes.  Sometimes the IRS will offer a callback option so I don’t have to listen to the IRS hold music for an hour.  I can work on other matters while on hold so I don’t have to charge clients for that time.  Still, the current phone system is untenable in allowing tax professionals to resolve issues.

I will be trying to call the IRS again tomorrow and we’ll see if there’s any improvement.

So, Russ, why not write the IRS letters to resolve matters?  When we write the IRS, it goes into the black hole of correspondence.  First, the average response time when we write the IRS is measured in months (three to six currently), so taxpayers have to wait longer for resolution.  Second, some of the time when we respond by mail the IRS repeats what was said in the original notice, ignoring the response; in those cases, we now have to send another letter to the IRS.  Third, the National Taxpayer Advocate correctly noted the IRS’s Achilles heal is correspondence.  The volume is so large that the IRS does lose items.  With a phone call, we have resolution (hopefully).

Some items must be responded to by mail.  For example, I have two clients who received erroneous “Math Error” notices.  The only way to challenge these notices is to write the IRS a letter.  (In one case, the IRS notice would be correct except for two amended returns that have not been processed.  In the other case, the IRS made the math error and miscalculated the client’s tax owed due to a tax treaty allowing for a favorable tax rate.)  Based on experience, it will be mid-2023 before these clients have resolution on these matters.

The IRS is supposedly based on providing quality service for taxpayers and tax professionals.  I do need to point out that when I reach IRS employees they almost always do provide a high level of service.  Unfortunately, reaching those employees is near impossible today.


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