There are a lot of changes brewing in the tax world for 2014. Some changes are the result of things Congress did – and even more, the result of things didn’t do. But Congress doesn’t pull all of the strings. The Internal Revenue Service has more than a little bit of latitude when it comes to tax administration and this year, they appear to be taking full advantage. Here’s what you need to know:
Citing “resource constraints,” the IRS is cutting back tax preparation services at their 250 walk-in offices and is, instead, directing qualified taxpayers to more than 13,000 volunteer partner sites across the country. No word yet on the exact definition of “qualified” since that likely depends on the specific volunteer sites (which means it will vary) but free tax preparation is generally limited to those taxpayers in a few categories: low income, military and seniors.
New “Get Transcript” Service
The IRS has been struggling with how to be best provide transcripts for taxpayers and have now announced a new online request option called “Get Transcript.” The service will allow individual taxpayers to instantly view and print a copy of tax transcripts. Five types of transcripts will be available: tax account, tax return, record of account, wage and income, and verification of non-filing. The service is not yet available – look for it in early 2014.
Where’s My Refund?
Speaking of inline services, the IRS is promoting the use of the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on their website. And by promoting, I mean really promoting. In order to conserve resources (translation: they want you stop calling them everyday), the IRS will not answer any questions about refunds in person by phone if you call within the first 21 days of filing your return. You’ll have to use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool – available online through irs.gov and via the automated telephone service. There’s a mobile app for that (IRS2Go). I’ll have the updated information (with screenshots for those of you who need them) as it becomes available.
Employer Identification Numbers Go Online
Beginning in 2014, the IRS will no longer issue new EINs (employer identification numbers) over the phone. You’ll have to make all such requests online – which apparently folks are doing already. The IRS says they processed more than 4 million such requests online last year compared to 588,000 by phone. This year, however, online is your only option.
Practitioner Priority Service Is (Gasp) For Practitioners Only
Okay, folks. This is the one change/stern warning from IRS that confounds me – and not because of the actual change so much as the fact that IRS felt the need to issue a statement about it. The IRS has something called the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS). Now, I know this sounds wacky but the line is for – wait for it – practitioners. In other words, tax professionals. That’s the number that folks like me and an army of my colleagues use to dial straight to IRS to resolve specific taxpayer client account issues: it’s like our version of the Batphone. According to the IRS, “[o]ver the past few years, a growing number of customers who were not tax professionals used this service.”
Now, the IRS is cracking down on those folks and making it clear that you’ll be referred to other resources if you try to use the number. Before you get all huffy, let me explain why this matters. The IRS staffs call centers and offices according to need based on specific services. The earned income tax credit (EITC) folks answer the EITC questions. International folks answer the international/FATCA questions. There’s even an entire criminal investigations (CI) department available to deal with criminal questions questions. And the folks that answer the PPS? They are specially trained to handle practitioners’ accounts questions. They’re not ready to answer your refund question or dig out your transcript. They’re prepared to explain to your tax professional why you received a certain notice or whether they can pull or pause a levy. If you call this number instead of the correct number, the folks at PPS have to route you somewhere else. In the meantime, other taxpayers are inconvenienced.
So to be clear: stop calling the PPS unless you’re a tax professional. It’s tacky. It’s like getting on the staff elevator when you’re not staff. Get off the elevator – I mean, the phone.
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