In the past, IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers were open on a first come first served basis to provide in person assistance with tax issues. Now the IRS is testing letting taxpayers get IRS help by appointment in-person. IRS encourages taxpayers to use the face-to-face meeting to only handle issues that cannot be taken care of over the phone or online.
You can find an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Office offering appointments here. Scroll to the bottom and click on your state or the international link. Look for a link to “By Appointment” in the Days/Hours of Service column for those offices scheduling appointments. As of this writing, the only NC IRS site taking appointments is in Wilmington. All other locations are drop-in with first come first served service. So how good are IRS’ suggested alternatives?
Is the IRS’ website a realistic option? Depends on how complex your problem is and whether it is specific to your account or not. Downloading forms and publications is pretty straight forward, assuming you know the form or publication you need. The IRS search tool is not ideal (being polite here). If I do not know where the information is on the IRS site, I usually use Google to search just the IRS website. You can do this in at least two ways – 1) use the Google Advanced Search screen and complete at least one search field and put “irs.gov” in the site or domain field or 2) type your search normally and at the end add “site:irs.gov.” Leave out the quotation (“) marks. Here is an example search for information on the child tax credit that will provide results only from the IRS site:
So the IRS website will only help you can find and understand the information on their site. It is no help if you need specific help with your actual account (e.g. respond to an IRS notice).
Good luck calling IRS! You are better off searching IRS’ website than calling. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has several reports on IRS phone efficiency. Need help because you have a collection notice? TIGTA reports IRS collections answers 25% fewer calls than they did in 2011 and taxpayers who do get through wait 97% longer (about 8 more minutes) than in 2011.
What about taxpayers seeking answers to help them complete their returns? TIGTA wishes them good luck (OK, not really but that is the gist of the report). TIGTA reports the level of service in 2015 through March 7th has dropped to 38.5% from 74.7% in 2014. The level of service is a measure of a taxpayers success in getting assistance (i.e. talking to an IRS employee, not necessarily getting the right answer). The average wait time more than doubled from 11.7 minutes to 24.6 minutes in the mid-season report.
On July 15, 2015 the Taxpayer Advocate gave updated numbers – IRS answered 39% of calls and hold times averaged 23 minutes compared to 71% answered the prior year with an average hold time of 19 minutes. So by the end of the tax season things got a little better or less bad.
Only the IRS could come up with a term like “courtesy disconnects” to replace “we hung up on you while you were on hold.” IRS hung up on 8.8 million callers before they got to speak to anyone. Wonder how many were hung up after starting to talk to an IRS employee but before receiving help? At least the hang ups only increased 544,000 from 2014.
It will be interesting to hear from people actually using the appointment system. Please add a comment letting us know if they were available at the scheduled time, were able to resolve your issue, and how difficult it was scheduling the appointment. If you prefer, you can send your comment directly to me.