|By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|
Tight budgets and heavier workloads have created a "devastating erosion of taxpayer service" provided by the
The report card, submitted in advance of the
The math doesn't add up,
What has that meant for customer service? The
The Wednesday report echoed the tone of a dire email that
"People who file paper tax returns could wait an extra week — or possibly longer — to see their refund," the email said. "Taxpayers with errors or questions on their returns that require additional manual review will also face delays."
And agency funding shortfalls will beget revenue declines: Fewer agents to collect taxes and conduct audits could cost the Treasury
"There is no way around the severity of these budget cuts without taking some difficult steps," including a hiring freeze, cuts in overtime pay and delays in installing needed IT upgrades, and despite the cuts, the
It has been a swift degradation of service for the agency. In fiscal year 2004, employees manning the
"Regardless of who files the return, whether it's self-prepared or a paid preparer, the delay is going to exist," said
But professional tax preparers can call practitioner-only hotlines, unavailable to the general public. That means the people who are likely to bear the brunt of the customer service shortfall are those who forgo — or are unable to pay for — an accountant's services.
Not that accountants don't have frustrations.
"The practitioner hotline for the last year has just been horrendous," said
This year's tax return also gets a bit more complicated by way of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which requires those who can afford it to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. That requirement kicked in last year, but "it all gets reconciled in the year-end return,"
For most, that means checking the box on their Form 1040 that attests that the filer had "minimal essential coverage" in 2014. But for those who didn't have coverage, there could be additional paperwork, Form 8965, which allows taxpayers or their prepares to calculate their penalty, or claim an exemption to the health-coverage requirement.
One good thing this year,
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