How to Talk to a Real Human at the IRS Without Waiting on Hold Forever

Customer Service, irs, taxes

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Ever tried to call the IRS during tax season? I’m going to guess it wasn’t a pleasant experience. While IRS staffers may be helpful, there just don’t seem to be enough of them. Last year callers reported hold times of three hours, far longer than the 30-60 minutes the IRS anticipated in a recorded message.

But sometimes, the best way to get answers or solve an issue is to pick up the phone. The IRS is going through a modernization process that will streamline the customer service experience and add thousands of agents to the phone lines. In the meantime, there are a few tips you can follow to reduce your wait time.

When to call

The IRS recommends checking its online resources before calling. It has a list of common issues that might have the answer to your question about your tax return, payments, or identity theft concerns.

According to the IRS, call wait times average around 15 minutes between January and April, with the heaviest call volume on Mondays and Tuesdays, during Presidents Day weekend and right before Tax Day.

If you’re calling between May and December, you can expect an average wait of 27 minutes, with the longest waits on Mondays and Tuesdays.

In a 2017 test of 10,000 calls, enQ, Inc. found that the best times of day to call were before 9 a.m. on the East Coast and after 5 p.m. on the West Coast.

How to call

Someone doesn’t just pick up on the second ring when you call the IRS. You have to go through a menu to get routed to the best agent for your issue.

Accountant Amy Northard offers this cheat-sheet to the IRS phone menu on her blog:

  1. The IRS telephone number is 1-800-829-1040, and they are available from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday thru Friday. The best time to call is early in the morning.
  2. The first question the automated system will ask you is to choose your language.
  3. Once you’ve set your language, do NOT choose Option 1 (regarding refund info). Choose option 2 for “Personal Income Tax” instead.
  4. Next, press 1 for “form, tax history, or payment”.
  5. Next, press 3 “for all other questions.”
  6. Next, press 2 “for all other questions.”
  7. When the system asks you to enter your SSN or EIN to access your account information, do NOT enter anything.
  8. After it asks twice, you will be prompted with another menu.
  9. Press 2 for personal or individual tax questions.
  10. Finally, press 4 for all other inquiries. The system should then transfer you to an agent.

Make sure you’re prepared

Before you call, make sure you’ve gathered everything you might need for the call. If you’ve waited on hold for a half hour then have to run around in search of the right paperwork, the whole process will just take longer.

The IRS recommends having the following items ready:

  • Social Security numbers (SSN) and birth dates
  • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for taxpayers without a Social Security number
  • Filing status – single, head of household, married filing joint, or married filing separate
  • Prior-year tax return
  • Tax return you’re calling about
  • Any correspondence we sent to you

If you’re ready to throw your phone at the wall

Still getting stuck on hold? Calls getting dropped after a long wait time?

If you live near a local IRS office, you may want to skip the main phone line and call there. They probably can’t answer your questions by phone, but your Taxpayer Assistance Center (see the directory by state here) can schedule a face-to-face appointment where you can get help from an agent.

If you’re still having a hard time getting help from a real live person, try contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service. It’s an independent office within the IRS that exists to help people with their ongoing tax issues.

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