Q: Is there a one-stop shop for frequently asked questions during tax filing season?
A: The Nobel-winning physicist Albert Einstein reportedly said, “the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” That’s something coming from the man whose last name is interchangeable with genius. The Presidents’ Day holiday weekend typically kicks off the busiest weeks of tax filing season leading up to the tax-filing deadline on April 15. The IRS encourages taxpayers to visit IRS.gov as the easiest, fastest, most convenient way to get answers. The IRS also launched a daily tax tips service that taxpayers may access for free by e-mail subscription. Through April 15, the IRS will send daily, easy-to-read tips on frequently asked questions that affect millions of taxpayers. The daily reminders offer insight into often-overlooked tax credits or deductions, consumer alerts, refunds, etc. Visit IRS.gov for more information. One of the biggest tips may be to file electronically if possible. According to the IRS nearly 120 million taxpayers chose to file their tax returns electronically last year. The IRS says it is the safest, fastest and easiest way to submit individual tax returns. Since 1990, taxpayers have e-filed more than 1 billion Form 1040 series tax returns.
Q: What is the Free File program and is it affiliated with the IRS?
A: Yes. Taxpayers who qualify for this program will find it an efficient, user-friendly tool to help them prepare, complete and e-file their 2013 federal tax returns free-of-charge. Since 2003, the IRS has partnered with a coalition of 14 private-sector tax software providers to offer free tax prep and electronic filing options for individual taxpayers. Those with adjusted gross incomes in 2013 of $58,000 or less may qualify to use this service. That makes 70 percent of U.S. taxpayers eligible to take advantage of this free-of-charge, online tax preparation service. In the last decade, 40 million taxpayers have filed their federal taxes through Free File.
Q: How do eligible taxpayers access this service?
A: First, taxpayers must have access to a computer and the Internet. Then, go to www.IRS.gov/freefile to take a look at the brand-name software companies from which you may choose to prepare and e-file your federal tax return for free. Once you have selected the tax software provider, you will be directed to that company’s website. From there, the company will provide step-by-step online assistance to answer tax law questions and resolve technical issues. The participating companies offer the most commonly filed tax forms through this service. Tax refunds may be issued within 10 days. The online service is available in English and Spanish. Taxpayers who are above the income limits and who do not require tax preparation assistance may access Free File’s basic e-filing service. Go to www.IRS.gov/freefile to find the Free File Fillable Forms to complete and file electronically. All participating Free File Alliance companies are subject to privacy standards in accordance with Treasury Department regulations and may not use or disclose tax return information without consent of the taxpayer.
Q: What help is available for taxpayers who don’t have access to a computer?
A: According to a recent internal watchdog report, the IRS answered only six in 10 phone calls from taxpayers seeking help in the last fiscal year. That added up to nearly 20 million unanswered phone calls. taxpayers who did get through were put on hold on average 17.6 minutes.
For taxpayers below a certain income and older taxpayers who don’t have access to a computer, two volunteer-based programs are available throughout local communities across the country, offering tax assistance through April 15. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs offer free tax help for taxpayers who qualify. These programs offer face-to-face help with simple tax return questions. VITA offers help to people who make $52,000 or less. TCE gives priority assistance to people age 60 and older. To locate a VITA site in your area, call toll-free (800) 906-9887. To locate the nearest TCE site, call toll-free (888) 227-7669.
Q: Does the IRS need more money to better serve taxpayers?
A: From my assignment on the Senate Finance Committee, which has legislative and oversight jurisdiction over the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS for years has come to Congress asking for more money to do its job. As with any federal agency, the IRS often attributes poor performance to under-funding. But wasteful employee conferences and a reluctance to embrace whistleblowers who expose tax fraud are examples of how the agency could and should do more with its existing resources before seeking more money. I’ll continue to look for ways to improve customer service at the IRS and ensure the agency offers the most bang for the taxpayers’ buck.