As the longest government shutdown in US history continues, many Americans are wondering how IRS services are being affected. An IRS-wide furlough began on December 22, 2018. What makes the shutdown even more challenging for the IRS is that most provisions of the new tax laws went into effect January 1, 2018, and they were in the midst of training for them. However, the IRS is scheduled to begin accepting tax returns for individuals on schedule on January 28. (The IRS began accepting business returns on January 8.)
80,000 of the 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown work for the IRS. The IRS had been functioning with just 10,000 employees since the shutdown began, but on January 15, the government indicated it would have 46,052 employees working during tax filing season. Few of these employees will be paid if the shutdown continues, and . availability of services may change as the IRS struggles to service taxpayers.
Filing Tax Returns
You may file your tax returns during the normal time period and in the same manner as you usually would during the shutdown. The IRS is accepting both paper and electronic tax returns. However, the IRS is encouraging electronic filing to speed processing and refunds.
Unlike previous years, the IRS will issue refunds during the shutdown.
IRS Collections and Enforcement
Collections will come pretty much to a standstill except for automated collection activity such as automated IRS collection notices and initial contact letters. Criminal investigations, however, will go on during the shutdown.
On the upside, the IRS will not be conducting audits during the shutdown, and no new audits will be begin. Even when running full tilt, the IRS only audits about 1% of tax returns each year. This does not mean those who were expecting to be audited during this time period can breathe a sigh of relief. The IRS can audit returns up to three years old, and they will get back to auditing those with worrisome tax issues once the shutdown is over.
If you have a scheduled IRS appointment that is related to audits, collections, appeals or taxpayer advocate cases, you can safely assume these meetings are cancelled according to the IRS website. Don’t worry, the IRS will reschedule once the shutdown is over.
Tax Court Operations
The US Tax Court closed December 28, 2018 at end of day and will remain closed until further notice. Some trial sessions have also been canceled. See Tax Court Operations During The Federal Government Shutdown for more information.
You can write to the IRS during the shutdown, and they will receive it. However, you may be waiting a long time before they respond even after the government reopens.
Live Taxpayer Support
Toll-Free IRS Phone Lines
It’s always a bit of a challenge getting through to the IRS. IRS hotline operators only answered four in every 10 calls taxpayers made to them during the 2018 tax filing season. But now phone support is at a standstill, because furloughed employees include those who man the IRS support lines. This is a big detriment to taxpayers who make about 95 million calls to the IRS toll-free lines each year. If you have a question about filing, refunds or anything else tax, don’t look to the IRS for now.
However, the IRS is planning to staff some of its telephone lines soon. Wait times, of course, are expected to be longer than usual. Most automated phone applications remain functional.
Walk-In Taxpayer Assistance Centers
Walk-in taxpayer assistance centers are closed and are expected to stay that way for the remainder of the tax filing season. Normally, about three million people use this service each year. These offices will not be able to process large cash payments, help people who are facing hardship or help identity theft victims who would be required to visit a center to verify their identities.
Tax Practitioner Priority Service
Tax practitioner support has also been cut. The Washington Post reports that a check on Friday, January 11 showed that the Practitioner Priority Service, a support line for tax professionals, was not accepting calls. This may change as the IRS brings more employees back to work for the tax season.
Tax Exempt Applications
The IRS will not process applications for tax-exempt status during the shutdown.
The IRS will not certify individuals for passport eligibility for the State Department during the shutdown.
Other IRS Services on Ice During the Government Shutdown
Additional agency responsibilities that will not be supported until the government reopens include
- Legal counsel
- Service center processing (such as data transcription, error resolution or coding) and planning
- Training or development activities within the agency. Among other things, this means that all training has stopped just as the IRS is ready to start implementing the new tax laws.
Updated Information About the IRS During the Government Shutdown
For more information, visit http://www.irs.gov.