Some of the hardest working people I know are tax preparers. At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to see my CPA’s car in his office parking lot when I drive by late in the day. Even on Saturday. It’s tax season. Accountants expect to work around the clock. Those that prepare taxes are keenly aware that it’s not a 9 to 5 job. But then, it’s the career they choose.
Tax preparers have to understand and process an overly complex set of
rules, regulations and laws. They’re the ones in the trenches,
attempting to explain to their clients why they have to pay more to
Uncle Sam this year than last year.
While many people had the President’s Day Holiday off work, my firm was
open, and I would guess most tax preparation firms and retail stores
were open too. Wall Street and banks were closed, however, as were
I was a bit surprised that IRS spokesman David Tucker encouraged people
not to call during the mid-February holiday week. To me, it’s more than a
little puzzling. At a time when it’s more difficult than ever to
complete tax returns, the IRS is shorthanded. Shouldn’t they have all
hands on deck? Don’t they know it’s the busiest time of year?
In fact, even though it was a holiday Monday, they at least should have
considered opening the call center on President’s Day. After all, as a
society we’ve reached the point where retail stores are open on
According to IRS data, they expect 148 million tax returns to be filed. I
was alarmed to see that only 60 percent of taxpayers who called the IRS
got through to a live person in 2012. Even so, the average wait time
was more than 17 minutes. To compare, 87 percent of calls were answered
in 2004 and 74 percent in 2010.
According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, the goal is to answer 78 to
80 percent of calls this year. However, he was quoted as saying “We
don’t expect our customer service to improve very much.”
That being said, the IRS is trying to improve their technology to make
it easier for taxpayers. For example, the web site IRS.gov had 456
million visitors in 2012. The IRS also has a smart phone app, IRS2Go
From a customer service perspective, the IRS needs to have its staff
available at peak times. Many believe the solution is to simply hire
more IRS staff. I see it differently. As a financial advisor, I have
firsthand experience that the tax laws have become far too complex.
I think there’s a better solution than hiring more agents to wade
through the tax laws. In my mind, the real world solution isn’t that
difficult. The answer is simply to overhaul the tax code and simplify
the entire process to the point that IRS office staffers feel as lonely
as the Maytag repairman.
It shouldn’t be so complex that 400 million are forced to search the web
site. Or that that people have to wait on hold for extended periods of
time before finally hanging up in frustration. It’s obvious that the
current method does not work. It’s way past time for an overhaul to make
everyone’s life easier.