How to Call the IRS

A mysterious phone call

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Because of my line of work, I spend more time on the phone with IRS agents than anybody else I know. When I used to work for a big tax company, my co-workers joked that my real reason for calling the IRS so much was because I liked their hold music and I should just buy a radio instead. But the truth is, the IRS is a scary organization for many people to deal with and not everyone can hire someone like me to do it for them. These are my tips for calling the IRS if you’re going to try it yourself:

  1. The most important rule in the book is to remember your good manners. No matter what you may be thinking, no matter how angry you are about the situation, you absolutely must remember your good manners that your mother taught you.
  2. You are most likely going to be on hold for a long time. Be someplace where you are comfortable and have something else to do while you’re waiting. Even with my special “Bat Phone” that I get to use for the IRS, I still have to wait on hold. You’re going on a regular civilian line and the wait can be very long.
  3. Make the call someplace where you won’t be disturbed. I have a home office and a work office. You would think that my home office is the perfect place for making IRS phone calls, except that my dog hates the IRS. I do not understand her problem—she’s a dog, she doesn’t pay taxes; but every time I’m on the phone with the IRS she begins barking like a crazy beast. In my line of work, this is not a good thing. I now make all my IRS calls from work. You probably don’t have the luxury of a designated IRS calling place, but just do your best to limit your distractions.
  4. You have to make the call yourself; you can’t have your daughter or neighbor call for you. If you can’t call for yourself, you need to be in the room. The IRS agent will want to talk to you personally, confirm your identity, and then you will have to give permission for the IRS to talk to the other person. Even after you give permission, you still have to be in the room.
  5. If you have a letter or notice from the IRS, have it with you when you call. Call the phone number on the notice that they provide. If you don’t have a phone number, the main IRS phone line is 1 (800) 829-1040—but only use that if you have no other phone number, you’ll wait on hold even longer.
  6. Be prepared to get transferred and put on hold again. (I find that dark chocolate M&Ms have a calming effect on the stress of being on hold. Just a suggestion.)
  7. Finally, the moment will come when a real live IRS agent will pick up the phone and will actually be able to assist you without sticking you on hold and forwarding the call again. Ta Da! By now, you could be really frustrated with the hold music and all, but you will remember your good manners and pleasant voice and say, “Hi, I’m ________________, and I’m calling about a notice that I’ve received from your office.”

And now the real conversation begins. The agent will need to identify you, she will ask you questions about your name, birthday, social security number, phone number, etc. Basically, she’s trying to make sure that you really are the person you say you are. Don’t be offended by that, it’s actually for your own protection.

The next part of the conversation will be about why you’re calling. Is the notice wrong? How do we fix it? Is the notice right and you want to find out how to pay the tax? Or maybe the notice is right but you don’t have the money to full pay and need to make arrangements. This is the nuts and bolts of the phone call where you find out what’s needed to end your problem.

I’d say that 95% of the IRS agents who man the phones are actually decent people and they really do want to help you. They might not be able to—they have rules and laws that they must stick to—but most of them genuinely want to be helpful.

So what if you get one of the other 5%, or what if the IRS agent just can’t solve your problem? You don’t have to settle the issue right that instant. Let’s say you get a notice that says you owe $20,000—you can’t pay and when you call the IRS you can’t come to a resolution on the phone. You very politely say, “I’m going to have my representative call you next week.”

If you can’t settle the issue on your own, then it’s time to hire someone like me (an enrolled agent), but at least you’ll know that you’re not wasting money on something you could have handled yourself.

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