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Understaffed IRS phone lines signal trouble for taxpayers

For many Minnesotans, tax season is a stressful time of year. Between professional, family and personal responsibilities, it may be difficult to find the time to deal with problems that arise when completing state and federal income tax returns. In order to resolve lingering concerns or questions, a person might need clarity from tax officials. The Internal Revenue Service offers taxpayer assistance by phone, but this resource might only create frustration these days.

Last year, nearly 40 percent of people who called the IRS for assistance hung up before they even spoke with a representative. The commissioner of the IRS said that people are frustrated because wait times on the phone are long and the agency is short on resources.

As the filing deadline approaches, it may become harder and harder for individuals to get their questions answered by the IRS -- especially given the difficulty in getting through on the agency's help line. At this point, a person might be caught between the possibility of submitting a past-due return or potentially making mistakes. Neither option is appealing.

Issues with a tax return could open the door to an audit, even if a person hasn't intentionally done anything wrong. This, of course, creates an entirely new set of concerns.

Hopefully, taxpayers will be able to get the answers they need to submit an accurate tax return. At the same time, however, the federal government can play a role in helping to ensure that people have access to a tremendously beneficial service from the IRS. Taxpayers have rights and dealing with an inadvertent mistake made in tax returns might be a side effect of the agency's failure to deliver.

Source: USA Today, "Poor IRS customer service hurts taxpayers," John Waggoner, Feb. 17, 2014

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