The past two tax-filing seasons were fraught with aggravations, delays, last-minute changes and huge backlogs at the IRS. But by comparison, this year’s tax-filing season has been going relatively smoothly, tax preparers say.
“After a few years of pandemic-related updates, mid-tax season IRS guidance, last-minute tax law changes and more, the ‘quiet’ is a welcome change to many,” the National Association of Tax Preparers said in a statement.
Indeed, the most recent filing season statistics from the IRS indicate more returns are being processed and more refunds are being issued than at the same point last year.
For example, the IRS reports that as of the week ending March 3 it had sent out 11% more refunds than it had during the same week a year ago.
Even though the IRS has processed more refunds at this point, however, the average refund this year, as expected, is smaller — down 11% to $3,028 from the same period last year. That’s because pandemic-relief measures that boosted refunds in the past two years have expired.
Better but far from perfect
A return to a more normal tax-filing season doesn’t mean tax preparers and their clients are getting all the guidance that they need, though.
The IRS this year is doing a much better job of responding to calls from preparers and filers. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday told the Senate Finance Committee that the IRS has been answering 80% to 90% of incoming calls in any given week this filing season, up from 13% last year. That’s thanks in large part to the agency being able to add 5,000 new customer service representatives, she noted.
But the quality of the answers to their questions and request for guidance has still left some tax preparers wanting.
“The seasoned workforce has retired and the newer agents are not properly trained,” said Kentucky-based enrolled agent Martha Nest. [Enrolled agents are federally authorized to not only prepare client taxes, but represent filers before the IRS in a variety of situations.]
And, Nest added, “their computer systems are antiquated and they are not consolidated so the agent cannot see the whole picture regarding a taxpayer when you call.”
Connecticut-based enrolled agent Morris Armstrong said he believes the additional money the IRS used to bolster its call response time was well spent, even if there is still a need for more training of new employees. “With newer people, you may often receive advice that you know is incorrect and sometimes you can be the educator. But sometimes you simply need to say thank you, hang up and call back in the hopes of finding an experienced agent,” Armstrong said.
He also noted the IRS response time to mail correspondence on behalf of his clients has been faster.
And when it comes to online services, Colorado-based enrolled agent John Dundon II has noticed some improvements as well. “The ‘Get Transcript’ functionality is remarkably improved as measured in ease of use and time to set up an account,” Dundon said.