The Internal Revenue Service: a name that strikes fear into the hearts of taxpayers and business owners everywhere. If you’ve had to deal with them recently, chances are it wasn’t a very good experience. But fear not, below are a few suggestions that may ease your pain the next time the IRS comes calling.
1. Don’t Avoid the Problem
I’ve had several bookkeeping clients who were putting all IRS correspondence aside in its own pile, sometimes waiting months before they worked up the nerve to open and read any of it.
But the longer you wait, the harder it will become. It is always better to deal with this kind of problem head-on, with honesty and transparency. Schedule time to review any correspondence, study the issue and prepare as best you can.
2. Get Organized Before You Call
Have all your information handy and sorted appropriately, including:
- Identification information for you and/or your business: They may ask you anything as part of the verification process, including your business address on file, the date you organized your business, your tax ID, information about business partners, entity type or information from past tax returns.
- All correspondence you have received from the IRS: Open all of it, and review carefully before you call in. This way, you understand the issues beforehand and aren’t surprised when on the call.
- Any supporting documents you can gather regarding the issues at hand, especially tax returns.
- Notes from any previous calls you may have made to the IRS.
- A comprehensive list of every single little question you can think of: This is really important, because it can be easy to forget issues while you are on the call.
3. Give Yourself Enough Time for the Call, Maybe as Much as 1 to 2 Hours
The best time to call is 7 a.m. local time, right when the IRS opens for business. This is probably when wait times will be the shortest, but you may still end up being on hold for a while, as the estimated wait time for the 2015 tax season is more than 30 minutes per call.
Have a good book handy, and make sure your phone is charged!
4. While on the Call, Be Kind
The IRS has had its budget cut by Congress several times over the past few years, which means it has smaller and fewer resources to handle its ever-increasing demand. As such, their call-center employees are likely overworked and underpaid. Put yourself in their shoes: How would you handle receiving calls all day from people who are angry, bitter or panicked about their tax problems? Remember that they have a thankless job, so be nice.
Aside from being common courtesy, having a kind and polite attitude is probably the most effective way to get help with everything you need. Bite your tongue, if necessary, and express some gratitude for their time and efforts to help you. As we all know, a little kindness can go a long way.
5. Take Copious Notes, and Make Sure You Understand Everything
- Write down everything, starting with the date, the name of the agent who’s helping you, and his or her ID number.
- Go through that list of questions you prepared, and make sure you understand every answer they offer. Don’t just assume that what they are talking about is over your head—it is worth your time to make sure you understand what they are trying to explain to you.
- Get as much detailed information as possible: Don’t just ask, “Do I still owe money?” Instead, ask, “Can you confirm that I don’t owe any money for any time period on any tax form?”
- Before you get off the call, review the main points of your conversation with the agent, and repeat back what your obligations are. This helps ensure there are no misunderstandings and prevents you from having to call back at a later time. Also, make note of any promises the phone agent has made, so you have a record if something does not go as planned.
While these suggestions are not a guarantee that your conversation will go the way you’d like, they should help things go more smoothly. These tips will hopefully make your tax season worry-free and your time on hold as short as possible.