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More Automation (prerecorded phone messages) When Contacting the Service –But Easier Access to Transcripts

Posted on Feb. 12, 2014

This post is a little stale, as we’ve had so much other great content it kept getting bumped.  In January, the Service announced that more taxpayer interactions are going to be handled through automated channels, and less advice and assistance is going to be provided in person or by a person over the phone; however, there was one positive in the new internet based transcript access.  Perhaps all of this automation will benefit some folks, but I get upset every time I’m sent into one of the automated voice services and forced to listen to classical music for 45 minutes.  Reminds me of Kramer doing Moviephone, except no one asks me what I actually want (starts around the 30 second mark).  So, what changes are being implemented?

The notice outlines various changes, and indicates these are being done because of a reduction in resources, but also based on constituent input.  Based on this constituent input, the Service will reduce tax preparation service, and require certain refund inquires and EIN requests to be done online.  The Service will also crack down on non-practitioners using the practitioner priority service.  I don’t find much of this problematic.

The most troubling issue I saw was the reduction in responding to tax questions from taxpayers.  I suspect this is based more on lack of resources than constituent input.  Basic tax questions will only be answered through the 2014 filing season.  After that time, the Service will direct basic tax questions to various online and other IRS publications.  All complex tax questions, starting immediately, will be directed to online and other IRS publications.  This seems disproportionately unfair to low income taxpayers, taxpayers with lower education levels, and taxpayers who do not speak English.  This is one area of direct contact between most citizens and the Government, and Congress has made compliance almost impossible to do without assistance and has not provided sufficient funding for the Service to answer taxpayer questions.

One other interesting and positive point highlighted in the notice was the new online transcript service beginning in 2014, which will allow taxpayers with SSNs to view transcripts online and print a copy.  It will also allow the taxpayer to request copies to be mailed.  Taxpayers requesting transcripts will be directed to the online portal found here.  I think that this could be beneficial to taxpayers, but am also concerned about how the Service will ensure taxpayer’s transcripts remain confidential.  The Service has previously allowed transcript requests through an online portal, which were then mailed to the taxpayer.  The same information will likely be needed for requesting the information, so my worries about confidentiality may be misguided.

I have gone through the process, requesting my personal return transcripts, and it went fairly smoothly.  Setting up my account took about five to ten minutes.  It did ask me questions I wasn’t certain about—like the current holder of all my student loans– and had quite a few security prompts to work through (which made it slightly annoying, but is probably for the best).  Once set up, I had instant access to return transcripts for 2010 through 2013.  The 2013 transcript was just a verification letter that I had not yet filed.  I could also obtain the following:

  • Record of Account Transcript for 2010 through 2012
  • Account Transcript from 2008 through 2012
  • Wage & Income Transcript from 2004 through 2013 (I was really poor in a lot of those years).

The interface also has a handy area where you can check the box for the reason you are obtaining transcripts, and it will tell you which transcript it thinks would best suit your need.  I did notice that it timed out very quickly.  I was able to keep my session open for an additional 15 minutes, but the prompt came up within ten minutes, which seemed a bit rushed.  Overall, upon my initial review, this appears to be a good technological enhancement for taxpayers.  The amount of information needed would make it cumbersome to use for clients though.

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