Several Taxpayer Services Become Online Only

By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.

From the IRS

The IRS announced on its website that, as of the start of the year, it has stopped providing a number of taxpayer assistance services in person or over the phone and has shifted those services online. The move is designed to free up IRS employees to help taxpayers deal with issues, such as identity theft, that cannot be resolved through other avenues. The changes are being made in the following areas: (1) tax return preparation, (2) transcript delivery, (3) tax law assistance, (4) refund inquiries, (5) employer identification numbers (EINs), and (6) the Practitioner Priority Service.

Return preparation: In recent years, the IRS has provided limited tax return preparation services at its walk-in offices. There have been restrictions on where and when the help is offered, and the IRS has required taxpayers to have income below the earned income tax credit thresholds to get help. This help has been further reduced, and taxpayers are directed to the more than 13,000 volunteer tax preparation sites instead of the 250 IRS walk-in offices. The IRS also noted that Free File is available to taxpayers on the IRS’s website.

Transcript delivery: In January, the IRS debuted its Get Transcript service, which allows individual taxpayers to use their Social Security numbers to view and print a copy of their tax transcript. Get Transcript is available for the following types of transcripts: tax account, tax return, record of account, wage and income, and verification of nonfiling. Taxpayers will still be able to request that a transcript be mailed to their address of record using the online tool or sending in Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

Tax law assistance: Most tax law questions the IRS receives during filing season are basic questions such as who qualifies as a dependent and who can take an exemption. The IRS will continue to answer these types of questions, but it will refer more complex questions to resources on the IRS website.

Refund inquiries: The IRS says the most common questions taxpayers ask are related to the status of a refund. The IRS notes that for the first 21 days after a return has been filed electronically or for six weeks after paper filing, taxpayers should check the status of their refund on the IRS’s online tool, Where’s My Refund? Customer service representatives will be able to help only those taxpayers who filed electronically at least 21 days prior (six weeks or more in the case of a paper return) or who are directed to a representative by the Where’s My Refund? tool.

EINs: According to the IRS, the EIN Online Assistant has been very successful, with more than 4 million requests processed per year. Beginning with the 2014 filing season, the IRS will handle all EIN requests using the Online Assistant, with only those with a previously assigned EIN being referred to an IRS representative.

Practitioner Priority Service: The Practitioner Priority Service, which provides a way to resolve taxpayer account issues, is intended for tax professionals, but it has been increasingly used by taxpayers. The IRS announced that, starting in January, use of the Practitioner Priority Service is restricted to tax practitioners who are trying to resolve issues for their clients.

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