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Buckle up: many taxpayers frustrated with IRS as tax season opens

"Buckle up" is a phrase that has taken on figurative meanings that go well beyond its literal seat-belt buckling roots.

In many contexts, it essentially means "get ready." Indeed, it often means to get ready because turbulence is coming, as sometimes happens on airplane flights.

This year's tax-filing season appears to be headed for such turbulence. In this post, we will discuss the recent warnings to that effect from the president of the union that represents IRS employees.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said last week that taxpayers can expect customer-service waits and refund delays, among other things.

The IRS finally started accepting tax returns on January 31. But the agency is still grappling with the impact of deep cuts to its budget in recent months.

As we noted in our January 19 post, those cuts will inevitably have a negative impact on IRS customer service.

On behalf of IRS employees, the union head is therefore urging taxpayers to prepare to navigate the ensuing frustrations of longer waits for refunds and reduced customer service.

A key indicator of the increasing bottlenecks affecting service is the inability to answer the phone. Last year, according to the NTEU union president, there were 20 million taxpayers who were unable to get through to the IRS because of the cutbacks in staff at the agency.

This is the second year in a row that the tax filing season has gotten underway late. Last year, it was because Congress passed a host of last-minute tax law changes in the deal to resolve the so-called Fiscal Cliff. This year, the delay is due to a combination of budget cuts and the effects of the 16-day government shutdown last October.

Yes, the filing season is underway now. But the caveat is that taxpayers should be prepared to deal with delays and frustrations in their contacts with the IRS.

Source: The National Treasury Employees Union, "Delayed Filing Season and Late Refunds Just The Start of Expected Issues for Taxpayers," Jan. 28, 2014

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