Need Tax Help? I.R.S. May Not Be the Best Place to Go

IF you’re ready to file your 2013 federal income tax return, you can do so starting now. The official start of tax-filing season arrived later than anticipated because of a delay caused by last year’s government shutdown.

If you are expecting to seek help from the Internal Revenue Service with your tax questions, you may find this to be a frustrating year.

Taxpayers are likely to encounter reduced service from the agency because of continued cuts in its budget and staff, according to the annual report of the National Taxpayer Advocate, the office charged with representing the interest of taxpayers. The reductions mean the I.R.S. is “significantly hampered” in its ability to offer “top quality” service, the report said.

What does that mean in practice? Longer waits to have your questions answered, for one thing. In fiscal year 2013 that ended Sept. 30, the I.R.S. received 109 million phone calls, according to the advocate’s report. Only 61 percent of those callers reached a customer service representative, and their average wait time was nearly 18 minutes.

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Budget and staff cuts mean less help for taxpayers from the Internal Revenue Service. But there are some other places to turn. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
The I.R.S. is also offering less help at its walk-in Taxpayer Assistance Centers. During this year’s tax season, which runs from January through April, the agency said it would answer only basic tax law questions at these offices — and said it would not answer those inquiries at all once the tax season ended, even questions from people who had filed for and received extensions.

Its longtime practice of helping older Americans and lower-income taxpayers prepare and file their returns at the walk-in locations will be curtailed, the I.R.S. said. Instead, the agency will direct people needing help to locations staffed by volunteers.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, for instance, has about 5,000 locations nationwide to assist taxpayers. While the offices have typically focused on helping older Americans, this year they will also expand their offerings to include taxpayers of all ages with incomes below $50,000, said Bonnie Speedy, the program’s director.

In general, she said, the program can help people with their returns unless they involve more complex situations, like rental income or a home business. “We’re here and ready,” she said.

The I.R.S. is urging taxpayers to make use of information and tools available on its website,

The agency’s online Free File program offers free electronic filing and tax software to help prepare your return on your own; options vary depending on your income.

Here are some related questions to consider:


bk 9 days ago
going to the irs to ask tax questions is a lot like asking the wolf to guard the hen house. also, their answers are not always right. that…
Garak 9 days ago
The recorded greeting from the IRS help line should start with “Due to Congressional budget cuts, we are unable to take your call…”
Bill 9 days ago
Wait until you need help selecting a health care choice………

If I need in-person help filing my return, where can I get it?

If you earn $52,000 or less, you may be able to get free tax preparation help from I.R.S.-trained volunteers, as well as electronic filing, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA. You can find locations near you on the I.R.S. website. You can find AARP Tax-Aide locations near you by calling toll-free, 888-227-7669.

Five Signs You Really Need Financial Planning

Financial planning is one of those tremendously off-putting topics, at least for some. If you don’t already find budgeting and investing interesting, it sounds like drudge work. Yet you should take your money seriously, and you know it.

Usually, people “wake up” to financial planning in their middle years, when they have a fair amount of money saved up and the number of decades ahead seems to be balanced against the decades that have passed.

Is it time to do some financial planning in your life? Here are five signs that it would be a good idea to engage your money a bit more seriously and some tools to help you put any nagging concerns to rest.
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The five signs, in rough age order, are:

1) For the first time, you make more money than you spend

When you’re young, paychecks seem to flit by, comically small and eaten up by taxes and Social Security. Unless you spend heedlessly, however, you eventually will find a few hundred bucks a month unencumbered. Get thee straight to human resources and open that 401k! Retirement planning is probably not on your radar just yet, but after a few years those savings will pile up.

2) You get married or otherwise share your life

A lot of people think marriage is a big commitment. It is, but buying a house with another person is an equally large and complicated undertaking. Kids, too, bring with them a major load of spending and planning problems. Schools, vacation, sports and pastimes. If you don’t have some financial planning books on your shelf by now, get cracking!

3) You begin to worry about others

Getting fired or laid off from a job is stressful, yet people often can make do. But what would happen to your significant other if you simply didn’t come home? A car accident would be heartbreaking news for your spouse, but then he or she has to pick up the financial pieces and might face dramatically different circumstances. Insurance as a financial planning tool is very important.

4) Your investments start to weigh on you

When you’re young and accumulating money in retirement accounts, it’s pretty easy to ignore the stock market. And you probably should. Once you get to the final 10 or 15 years of your career arc, the specter of a potential loss can be difficult to ignore. Financial planning for retirement is now front and center.

5) Retirement choices beckon

Once you get over the hump of the middle years of saving and investing, it should be time to kick back and indulge a bit. You will nevertheless have to continue to manage your money prudently in retirement and do planning to benefit heirs or charities you admire. Long-term care and health concerns also will crop up.

Nobody “loves” financial planning, except perhaps people in the business. But you really should engage the topic head-on and ahead of your needs to avoid turning simple decisions into unnecessary panic.