I kept my swearing to a minimum this tax season.
Honestly, that says more about IRS than it does about me.
It felt like a different tax season. Last year, the IRS marked a dismal 15% Level of Service to taxpayers. The “Level of Service” is the number you get when you divide the number of taxpayers who reach a live assistor by the number of calls the IRS system routes to live assistors. Remarkably, that 15% only accounted for calls that made it into the queue—calls routed for automated assistance and callers who hang up before they are placed in a queue are excluded from the formula.
This year, the IRS achieved an 87% Level of Service, exceeding Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen’s goal of 85%. As Ernie Capadino astutely remarked in A League of Their Own, “This would be more, wouldn’t it?”
According to the IRS, the 5,000 new hires they made in the fall, thanks to Inflation Reduction Act resources, meant that someone was actually picking up the phones this year. IRS customer service representatives answered more than 6.5 million taxpayer calls this year, which is 2.4 million more calls with live assistance through April 7, compared to the same period in 2022.
Getting through was also easier. Taxpayers didn’t have the opportunity to hear “One to One,” the IRS’ hold music, on loop quite as often—IRS cut phone wait times to four minutes, down from 27 minutes in 2022.
And taxpayers who couldn’t get through immediately often had the option of a callback, like you’d be offered while waiting for an American Airlines or Xfinity representative. The IRS claims this option will be available for 95% of taxpayers calling for toll-free live assistance by the end of July 2023.
Many in-person taxpayer assistance centers—TACs—were also open in 2023, a significant change from last year. The IRS reports that 335 TACs were open this filing season, including 17 new or newly re-opened TACs that were closed in the previous year (Casper, Wyo.; Binghamton, N.Y., West Nyack, N.Y.; Overland Park, Kan.; Longview, Texas; Santa Fe, N.M.; Queensbury, N.Y., Charlottesville, Va.; La Crosse, Wis., Cranberry Township, Pa.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Joplin, Mo.; Jackson, Tenn.; Augusta, Maine; Bellingham, Wash., and Trenton, N.J. IRS also opened a new TAC in Greenville, Miss.). That means that IRS was able to serve 428,000 taxpayers in person as of March 31—107,000 more taxpayers than during the same period last year. The IRS expects to expand in-person services to reach more communities next year, including providing information about wait times for on-demand service so they can better plan their visits and improve scheduling capabilities for in-person appointments.
As for those tech upgrades? They’re finally paying off. For years, the IRS has done many things manually, like inputting the numbers from paper returns into its computers one digit at a time. Automating this process, the IRS says, is one of the highest priorities as the IRS upgrades technology. And they’re already dipping their toes in the pool—starting with Form 940, which is used to report your annual Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax. The IRS used automation to scan 470,000 Forms 940 as of April 13. That’s just the first quarter of the year—in that time frame, IRS scanned 80 times more returns than in all of 2022. The agency claims to be on track to scan millions of returns this year.
Technology will also allow taxpayers to respond to notices online. Until this filing season, when taxpayers received notices for things like document verification, they had to respond through the mail. Taxpayers can now respond to nine of the most common notices for credits like the Earned Income and Health Insurance Tax Credits online, saving them time and money. The IRS plans to up the number of notices that allow for online response to 72, a significant improvement.
Is there still work to do? Of course. I would love for those Forms 2848 that I’ve uploaded to the IRS portal to be processed. And it would be nice if international taxpayers could make payments without jumping through So.Many.Hoops.
But are things finally getting better at the IRS? I think so.