Calling the IRS? Expect to wait 10 minutes
Do you have 10 minutes to spare? You may need them if you call the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS is keeping taxpayers calling for information about their tax accounts on hold for an average of 10 minutes -- the longest wait time in five years, according to a new Government Accountability Office report on the agency's performance during tax season, which runs from Jan. 1 to mid-April.
Despite the availability of most government services on the Internet, IRS telephone services are still critical because taxpayers seeking information about individual accounts can do so only by calling a toll-free telephone number, visiting an IRS office in person or submitting a written request.
The IRS received about 77 million telephone calls during the 2010 filing season, on par with the previous year. A new automated answering system handled about 40 percent of the calls, operators answered another 31 percent and 27 percent of calls ended when the caller hung up, according to the audit.
In response, IRS officials blamed the long waits on the growing number of people who are calling to obtain individual tax information and more callers seeking information about the new First Time Homebuyer and Making Work Pay tax credits. It described its response to taxpayer calls as "extremely successful," noting a 93 percent satisfaction rating among customers who used its telephone service.
The agency pushed backed against GAO's suggestion that it draft uniform customer service standards for telephone operators, suggesting that paying too much attention to the issue could pull money and manpower away from its primary mission of collecting taxes and enforcing tax laws.
Overall, the IRS processed about 137 million tax returns in 2010, a 2 percent drop from 2009, the report said. The agency issued 107 million refunds totaling $312 million, a 5 percent annual increase. About 20 percent of last year's tax returns required corrections, resulting in delayed refunds, but better accuracy and more money sent back to taxpayers.
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| January 19, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Eye Opener, Oversight
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