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IRS promises better customer service during 2016 tax season

Georgia residents who called the Internal Revenue Service with questions during the 2015 tax season will likely remember spending long periods on hold or being abruptly disconnected. Only 37 percent of the calls made to the IRS between Jan. 1 and April 18 of that year were put through to a customer service representative, and switchboards disconnected 8.8 million calls to prevent callers being left on hold for extremely long periods.

The IRS has fought an uphill battle securing funds from Congress in recent years, but howls of protest over poor customer service prompted lawmakers to approve a $290 million budget increase to improve taxpayer assistance. The money is being used to hire and train approximately 1,000 additional customer service representatives, and an agency representative said that the goal is to put at least 60 percent of the calls received through to a live operator. The IRS also hopes to reduce the amount of time that callers spend on hold to less than 20 minutes.

The budget increase will also pay for measures designed to improve online security and prevent identity theft, but it will not be used to replace the hundreds of compliance officers scheduled to retire in 2016. The chances of a taxpayer facing an audit were less than 1 percent in 2015, but experts believe that they will be even lower in 2016.

Long hold times and poor customer service can be particularly frustrating when the IRS is involved because the taxpayers making these calls are often extremely anxious. Those with tax problems may worry that the IRS will seize up to three quarters of their income or place liens against their assets, and written communication from the IRS rarely calms these fears. Attorneys with experience in this area may sometimes seek to prevent the IRS from placing levies against wages or liens against property even if the deadline to appeal has passed.

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