IRS: Not really available to help

I had a question about how to properly file taxes in an unusual tax situation. Why not go to the source?

  • Federal law established the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to promulgate the rules and regulations that all taxpayers must follow to certify that they are in compliance with tax law.
  • The IRS can fine persons for any failure to file and pay taxes in compliance with its rules.

Government bureaucracies may not be fast, but “Surely,” I thought, “the IRS will tell me how to correctly file and pay taxes in my particular situation.” After all, if I don’t do it to their satisfaction they can fine me.

I thought I’d write a letter and wait a few months for an official written response on which I could rely.

But no! The IRS is so eager to help that it encourages individual taxpayers to call and speak to its agents directly! Except that due to COVID “IRS live phone assistance is extremely limited at this time.

So can you Email or mail your question to the IRS? No! The only alternative the IRS volunteers is to schedule an appointment for an in-person meeting at one of its local offices. Surprise: Most of those offices are short-staffed and only deal with people who have been assessed fines and want to work out payment plans.

All search paths ended with an instruction to call the IRS by phone, so I relented and called its “extremely limited” telephone assistance line: 800-829-1040 … 1 … 2 … 2 … 3 … 4. Five levels into the automated phone tree I got a recorded message telling me to go to IRS.gov and look there for the answer to my as-yet unarticulated question. Then the automated system hung up on me.

(Yes, I already exhausted my web browser searching for an answer to my question on IRS.gov.)

Undaunted, I tried a different path: 800-829-1040 … 1 … 2 … 2 … 3 … 1. After 15 minutes a real live IRS employee answered the phone! He asked me to explain my question and helpfully concluded that I would have to speak to someone in the IRS “tax law area” for an answer. He transferred me to that “area.” Where an automated message said, “Due to high volume, we are unable to assist you at this time. Please call back at a later date.” Then the IRS phone system hung up on me again.