(The Hill) – The due date to file a tax return this year is Tue., April 18 and it comes against the backdrop of some major structural changes in U.S. tax administration that have been a serious point of contention between Democrats and Republicans.
But those changes, which will impact audits rates and help the government collect hundreds of billions in missing taxes every year, are likely not being felt by regular taxpayers this season.
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Instead, filers can expect the preliminary wave of the $80 billion provided to the IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act to result in basic improvements in time spent waiting on the phone and refund delivery speeds.
A hiring spree to clear up backlogs
Over the course of the pandemic, backlogs of unprocessed tax returns and unanswered phone calls piled up as the agency had to close field offices and have employees start working from home.
Even so, service levels are now improving as the IRS expects to hire an additional 7,400 taxpayer service specialists, 1,500 auditors, 730 operational support workers and 360 technologists the this year. There were 2.26 million unprocessed individual returns at the beginning of this month, down from tens of millions at the height of the pandemic.
The easiest way to file taxes
The IRS recommends that taxpayers file electronically to avoid processing delays using the Free File public-private partnership or commercial software programs that give improved user experience and additional support for extra fees.
The agency reminds taxpayers to report all taxable income and keep good annual records so that information from previous years can be easily accessed if necessary.
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“Taxpayers who need more time to file can easily request a six-month filing extension to Oct. 16 to prevent late filing penalties,” the IRS says. “While an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due on April 18 for most taxpayers.”
The majority of refunds issued by the IRS are sent out within 21 days, the agency says, but filing by mail can make this process longer. The vast majority of Americans now file their taxes electronically.
Specialists in the private tax preparation world are recommending some of the agency’s publicly available tools.
“Double check your 2023 withholdings using the IRS Withholding Estimator, so that you will not receive an unexpected tax bill next tax season, and don’t forget to update your W-4 if needed,” said Mimi Lewi, a senior tax compliance specialist at Empeon, a human resources software platform for companies doing payroll and hiring.
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The average tax refund gets processed in about 12 to 15 days, Lewi said.
The Treasury Department gave the IRS a thumbs-up on Monday for its work during this tax season so far.
“Thanks to Inflation Reduction Act resources, the IRS delivered dramatically improved service in Filing Season 2023. The IRS achieved 87 percent level of service, exceeding Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen’s goal of 85 percent,” the Treasury said in a statement.
Treasury-measured IRS service levels dropped as low as 15 percent in 2022.
Call wait times are way down, falling to just 4 minutes from 27 minutes, and the agency has answered 2 million calls through live assistance.
Tax help in your neighborhood
In-person taxpayer assistance centers (TAC) have reopened in Wyoming, New York, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Maine and New Jersey.
A new center to help taxpayers was opened in Greenville, Mississippi.
Since the beginning of the year, the IRS reopened TACs in Casper, Wyo.; Binghamton, N.Y., West Nyack, N.Y.; Overland Park, Kan.; Longview, Texas; Santa Fe, N.M.; Queensbury, N.Y., Charlottesville, Va.; La Crosse, Wis., Cranberry Township, Pa.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Joplin, Mo.; Jackson, Tenn.; Augusta, Maine; Bellingham, Wash., and Trenton, N.J. IRS also opened a new TAC in Greenville, Miss.
The road ahead
While the 2023 filing season is being marked by service improvements, bigger changes in tax enforcement and administrative design lie ahead.
Tax attorneys are paying attention to the idea that the IRS is becoming more centralized in the way it handles data and makes decisions related to enforcement.
“I’m struck that the pendulum is swinging back to centralized planning. This has been the trend in certain areas … but it hasn’t been so plainly stated. Audit priorities will be dictated centrally, based on data analytics … and the field agents will merely be conduits of the wisdom descending from Washington,” Rob Kovacev, an attorney with law firm Miller & Chevalier, said, noting that the term “analytics” appears 149 times in the IRS’s new operating plan.