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February 4th, 2013 at 3:24 pm — By R&G Brenner
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Average IRS Hold Time Was 17 Minutes In 2012

If you need help with a federal tax question, the Internal Revenue Service offers free, live assistance by telephone. But you’ll probably need to be patient when you call.

Wait times when calling the agency have been growing, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

Millions of people call the IRS each year. Last tax season, the average wait time to speak to a live representative was 17 minutes, up from 12 minutes in 2011, the G.A.O. found.

And the percentage of callers seeking live assistance who actually received it was 68 percent, down from 72 percent the year before. The number of abandoned calls, which means the caller hangs up before speaking to someone, rose 20 percent.

The agency also has been slower to respond to mail. Of the 21 million pieces of paper correspondence the agency received in 2012, about 40 percent were considered “overage,” meaning that the I.R.S. did not respond within 45 days of receipt.

The dwindling service is the result of inadequate funding, according to a report by the National Taxpayer Advocate, the office charged with representing the interest of tax payers in dealing with the I.R.S. “The decline in these key measures is deeply disturbing,” the advocate’s annual report said, noting that telephone calls and correspondence are the two main ways taxpayers communicate with the I.R.S..

“Few government agencies or businesses would be satisfied if their customer service departments were unable to answer three out of every 10 calls,” the report added, “nor would they be content if nearly half of all correspondence took more than 6 1/2 weeks to answer.”

I called the toll-free number on Wednesday afternoon, on the first official tax filing day of the year, to see how long it would take to talk to someone. An operator answered the call quickly, but transferred me to another line, where a recorded voice told me my estimated wait time would be 10 to 15 minutes. I waited 14 minutes, according to the clock on my computer, before I was connected to a representative. That’s better than average, but still a fair bit of time spent on hold.

It’s not clear if there’s any best day of the week, or time of day, to call the toll-free number. The line, (800) 829-1040, is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., in all time zones in the United States.

Before I ended the call, I asked the I.R.S. representative if she could recommend the best time of day to telephone the agency, to get the shortest wait time. She suggested calling early in the morning.

An I.R.S. media spokesman didn’t respond to requests for suggestions about the best time to call, although he e-mailed some links to the agency’s Web site that provided a list of walk-in offices where you can go in person to get help.

Bonnie Speedy, vice president of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide and a former member of the I.R.S. Advisory Council, suggests avoiding Mondays,  particularly first thing in the morning, when call volumes are typically heavy. Calls are routed depending on the complexity of the question, so a call seeking help with a technical tax matter will likely take longer than a simple inquiry about, say, when you can expect your refund check. (The foundation offers free tax preparation for low-to moderate-income taxpayers, especially those 60 and older, at nearly 6,000 locations.)

The tax-filing Web site Taxbrain advises that people call the I.R.S.  Tuesday through Thursday and suggests avoiding 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., in all time zones. It also helps to be polite and have any relevant documents handy when you call…

By: Ann Carrns

Original Article: NY Times

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