This year, the already-painful process of filing taxes with the US' Internal Revenue Service seems to be more difficult, more time-consuming -- and slower -- than ever before. The days of super-happy-and-helpful IRS agents (which was the case, after the IRS was nearly abolished a few years ago) are clearly over.
If you already got your refund in a timely fashion, good for you. Happy for you. Move along, nothing to see here. No gloating allowed.
Apparently, the IRS' new concerns about identity theft this year (or, some might say, compulsive avarice toward the 99%), it appears to many observers that the entire tax refund process has been slowed down. Like, for some of us, waaaaay down.
The IRS even left the forms on the official, free, online tax-filing service -- broken for weeks, so tax returns just got a cryptic error messages in response; for your convenience, here are the definitions of those "Where's my Refund" FAQ, with error codes, provided in oh-so-helpful pdf format. Go for the bronze, IRS!
And note that those broken tax forms were for obscure tax-needs such as having children (children's names didn't line up properly to file for the Earned Income Credit), or people with their own small business (the Schedule C-EZ form wouldn't calculate figures as required). Such fun.
Plus, this year, IRS agents seem to be all on-message, telling callers that they know pretty much nothing and can pretty much help you with... nothing. Sorry workers; we're sorry, too.
Ready to verify all that for yourself? Try to call the IRS general tax payer customer service telephone number at 1-800-829-1040. Go ahead; I'll wait.
Okay, so it's at least an hour later. How did the call go? Did they tell you to check their website, and that they didn't know anything about... anything?
If so, you're not alone.
Now, go ahead and check the IRS' "Where's My Refund?" website at the easy-to-remember web address of:
Be sure to enjoy the multiple, dire, and conflicting warnings while you're at the "Where's my Refund" website, which all seem to say -- in sum -- "STOP TRYING TO CONTACT US WE KNOW NOTHING DO YOU HEAR?!?!"
At least this year, it appears that the "Where's My Refund" site is generating random guesstimates based on when your tax return was originally submitted. If it says a date on "Where's my Refund," great -- just don't bank on it. Not this year, anyway.
Especially if you are "married filing jointly" and filed an "injured spouse" form (Form 8379), so that your entire tax return wouldn't be sent off to pay back your spouse's student loans or other federal debts. That form adds 11-14 weeks onto the processing time for your return, because after all, who has lingering student loan debt? Anyone?
So what do you do it you're facing serious problems due to a lagging tax return?
If you are facing eviction, or having your utilities turned off, here is what you can do.
The IRS has a "Taxpayer Advocates" office. You can reach them at 877-777-4778. Wait times are usually in the 15-minute range. The person you speak with will not be the actual advocate, but will set you up with one if you have documentation of your hardship -- meaning an eviction or shut-off notice.
Your taxpayer advocate will call you back a few days later. Yes, "days." Be there when they call, or another week will be added before they call back.
You can then fax the requested documentation to a number they provide, to their offices around the country. They may ask you to include some, or all, of your tax forms.
Because otherwise they would have to ask the IRS for copies of your tax forms.
And this year -- even for the IRS itself, asking its own offices -- that process could take months.
The Taxpayer Advocates are authorized, given the proof of hardship, to make the IRS process your forms stat -- like today people -- and can either have your refund issued in one week, or even to issue the funds directly themselves, bypassing the IRS process altogether.
To our un-empowered IRS workers, we sympathize.
But IRS Taxpayer Advocates, we salute you. You are the heroes that America deserves, and the ones we may need... right now.