Tax day is coming up. Here’s how to deal with the IRS.

Tax Day 2022 is just around the corner. But just when many Americans need answers most urgently, communicating with the Internal Revenue Service can be harder than ever.

Do you need to send a letter to the IRS? The additional workload from the pandemic has left the agency with a paper jam of more than 20 million tax returns, amended returns and correspondence. On March 17, Commissioner Chuck Rettig told members of Congress that the backlog would not be cleared until the end of the year, even though the IRS was taking extraordinary action. The agency, he said, uses a “first-in, first-out” approach to combating pile-ups.

Calling the IRS is also nearly impossible unless you have a specific number for an audit or notice. For the fiscal year ended September 30, 2021, according to National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins, only about one in ten calls to the agency’s customer service number achieved representative after-call volume, which nearly tripled over the year. The lines are still clogged.

A third communication barrier concerns taxpayers’ access to important records. The IRS’s old system for retrieving such information had such strict filing requirements to prevent fraud that it turned down more than half of the applicants – including Ms Collins.

Tax Guide 2022 of the WSJ

Download the e-book to find out what’s changed in taxes and what it means for you.

To expand access, the agency turned to a government-certified provider, ID.me, to verify the identity of applicants seeking their records. Then, in February, controversy erupted over ID.me’s requirement that those taxpayers provide a selfie of their face as “biometric” data to prove identity.

After protests from congressmen and privacy experts about the dangers of collecting biometric data, ID.me offered an alternative verification that includes an online interview. It also said it would delete the facial images already collected.

While some ID.me users don’t mind this process, others found it difficult, cumbersome and took hours to complete. (ID.me said the average wait time for a recent video interview was 16 minutes.) Some don’t like giving sensitive personal information to a private company.

Eileen Santman, a retired IT manager living in Claremont, NC, was instructed by her tax firm to get verified with ID.me after her electronic tax return was rejected earlier this year.

“I felt extremely uncomfortable with it, especially with the face scan. There are so many hacks and people misusing information,” she says.

IRS officials are currently working on a government alternative to ID.me, but it won’t be ready for months. Meanwhile, the controversy caused confusion and led to reports that people need a selfie to file tax returns – which is not true.

Here’s what you should know about communicating with the IRS during a tough time. Above all, avoid sending the agency paper that increases mass accumulation.

filing your taxes

Not much has changed on that front. Most taxpayers are still filing e-files like they have for years — through professional preparers, business tax preparation companies, or IRS Free File.

One exception is new victims of tax-related identity theft, where scammers steal tax information to make bogus refund claims. These applicants are typically required to verify their identity with the IRS, often through ID.me or, if they are already registered, the IRS’s legacy system. It’s also possible to get verified in person at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center, although getting an appointment can take a long time.

Taxpayers whose 2020 tax returns have not yet been processed face a different problem. They cannot enter their adjusted gross income for 2020 as is required to file 2021 tax returns electronically, so the IRS advises these individuals to file an electronic file and enter $0 for the prior year’s AGI.

Sending a paper return is still acceptable and a small number of applicants are required to do so for a variety of reasons. The backlog will delay processing of these returns, although checks sent with them will be cashed soon.

make tax payments

Applicants do not need to be verified through ID.me or the IRS legacy system to pay taxes. Instead, you can pay by bank transfer or write a check when you file your tax return.

You can also use IRS Direct Pay, a secure online service, or the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. EFTPS require taxpayers to sign up and get a PIN, which can take about a week. It’s even possible to pay the IRS in cash at certain retailers.

Checking refund or changed return status

It can also be easy to verify refunds or modified returns through dedicated IRS portals by providing three data points. For a tax refund, this is a social security number, filing status, and the exact refund amount.

Check your IRS transcript e.g. B. Payments for child tax credits

A taxpayer’s transcript, which is a secure online file containing personal tax information, contains key information, including incentive payments and prepayments of child tax credits, required for filing 2021 tax returns. Applicants who have misplaced IRS letters detailing these payments, or who believe the letters are incorrect, can review their transcripts.

The IRS directs new applicants seeking online access to transcripts to verify their identity through ID.me. It’s also possible, if it’s slower, to get a transcript in the mail without going through ID.me. See IRS.gov/individuals/get-transcript for details on this process.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you had trouble contacting the IRS? Share your experiences in the comments below.

How to Deal with a False IRS Notice

As a result of the backlog, many taxpayers with unprocessed 2020 tax returns received menacing-sounding notifications that the IRS had not received their tax returns, even if they cashed a tax payment from them.

In early February, the IRS stopped sending several types of notices until the unprocessed returns were processed. It also means taxpayers don’t have to call or write to respond to erroneous communications.

Contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent entity within the IRS tasked with solving the toughest tax problems and helping taxpayers who are struggling financially because of taxes. It is chaired by Ms. Collins and can be accessed at www.irs.gov/taxpayer-advocate.

However, TAS cannot help with a problem until a tax return has been entered into the IRS system. Because paper returns take 10 or more months to process, many people who submitted paper returns are not yet eligible for help from TAS.

write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com

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