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IRS stretched too thin, says taxpayer advocate

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Major changes to the tax code created a lot of confusion for taxpayers, and the IRS hasn’t been able to adequately address the increased demand for information.

In fact, on Tuesday the National Taxpayer Advocate released its annual report to Congress laying out all the issues taxpayers have been struggling with, including cutbacks in IRS assistance when trying to navigate filing season.

According to the report, customers had to wait on hold for 24 minutes on average last year when calling for help. This year, it’s looking to be worse. It took the Yahoo Finance staff more than half an hour when we tried calling -- and that’s after several minutes of navigating the telephone tree of automated menus.

The number of filers that get help from tax assistance centers (TACs) across the country has decreased by 27%. The IRS has reduced the number of TACs from 401 to 371 since 2011, and some have only one staff member -- and sometimes none at all – on hand.

Other issues plaguing the agency include its information infrastructure. The report cites a “profoundly archaic IRS IT architecture” that pulls case information from more than 60 management systems, a setup that “[places] the IRS squarely in the 20th century.”

Going forward, taxpayers are encouraged to be patient, as the IRS has been digging out of the backlog that piled up during the shutdown, but they have worked pretty swiftly to get back on track. Some taxpayers have gotten their refunds processed in just a week.

If you need help filing

For filers who make less than $55,000 a year, have disabilities, there is free IRS volunteer tax assistance at more than 12,000 sites nationwide as the IRS expands its partnerships with nonprofit and community organizations for tax prep services. And there's Tax Counseling for the Elderly, which specializes in pension and retirement-related issues. You can find one near you on the IRS website.

Next week, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson will be visiting the Yahoo Finance offices, so send us your tax questions to moneyquestions@yahoo.com and we’ll get them answered.

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