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Getting in touch with the IRS during COVID-19 Pandemic

Jim Buttonow, CPA, CITP

SVP Post-Filing Tax Services

Published on: July 14, 2021

Taxpayers felt the impact of IRS closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. IRS campus operations and phone services were almost non-existent, leaving taxpayers in a quandary on how to get answers from the IRS.

Most IRS employees at central campuses now have remote working capabilities (laptops, VPN access, etc.) and are able to assist taxpayers. However, the IRS is overwhelmed with taxpayer inquiries and questions, especially as it relates to stimulus payments. 

Taxpayers with compliance issues can interact with the IRS, but may have to wait months to get an IRS acknowledgement of their response and resolution. The IRS is holding off on issuing many notices during this time.

Contact a Local Taxpayer Advocate (LTA) in Texas





*Austin 3651 S. Interregional Highway, Stop 1005 AUSC, Austin, TX 78741 (512) 460-8300 (855) 204-5023
Dallas 1114 Commerce St., Room 1001, MC1005DAL, Dallas, TX 75242 (214) 413-6500 (855) 829-1829
El Paso 700 E. San Antonio St, C101F, El Paso, TX 79901 (915) 834-6512 (877) 929-1822
Houston 1919 Smith St., Stop 1005 HOU, Houston, TX 77002 (713) 209-3660 (855) 829-3841

IRS.gov can provide a phone/fax # for your local advocate

*Austin’s mailing address is: IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service, P.O. Box 149223, Austin, TX 78767.

Common taxpayer questions

Taxpayer questions that can only be answered by the IRS have not stopped because of the pandemic. In fact, because of stimulus checks, the need for the IRS to answer taxpayer questions is greater than ever.

Here are some of the more common taxpayer questions during this time:

  1. Why is my refund  being held up? (or, if the IRS is holding the refund pending information from the taxpayer, how does the taxpayer get the IRS to consider the information and release the refund?)
  2. I got an  identity verification letter  from the IRS. How do I speak to an IRS representative to verify my identity and release my refunds?
  3. Why can’t the “ Get my payment ” tool provide me with information about when and how much stimulus payment I will receive?
  4. I am trying to refinance my house and take advantage of favorable interest rates, but I need a payoff amount on my outstanding balance. How do I get an official payoff amount from the IRS?
  5. I am suffering financial hardship and also owe the IRS.  How can I modify my payment plan or ask for payment deferral until my situation gets better? 
  6. How can I get a copy of my IRS transcripts when I am not able to create an  IRS online account  and use the “ Get Transcript ” feature?

Many of the questions raised have urgent financial impacts for the taxpayer. Refund holds and stimulus payment issues rise to the top of the taxpayer concerns. The IRS provides frequent updates at www.irs.gov/coronavirus

Taxpayers with immediate needs have multiple options for contacting the IRS. A few are included below:

Hardship situations:  If the taxpayer has a financial hardship, the taxpayer can contact their LOCAL Taxpayer Advocate’s office. Find the phone and fax number for your local advocate here:  https://www.irs.gov/advocate/local-taxpayer-advocate . For example, if you live in Texas, you will pick the advocate’s office closest to your location:

When you call, you are likely to get a voicemail (not speak to a live person) that will allow you to leave your information to receive a call back from a caseworker. The message will give you their timeframes for returning a call. 

One important tip in working with your local taxpayer advocate is this: sending a  Form 911Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance , is the best way to get the IRS to address your issue. An informal phone request to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) may not get you into their workstream, but a Form 911 allows your case to be formally assigned to a caseworker. Formal assignment means you get a call back and attention from the IRS. Taxpayers can get Form 911 online at  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f911.pdf

Download a Form 911 at IRS.gov

Make sure you fully complete the form, including your hardship in box 12a and the specific relief you are requesting in box 12b. Fax the Form 911 (and any supporting documentation, notices) to the local TAS office. This will get the process started. You may hear back from a caseworker in a week. With high caseloads, it is not uncommon for the IRS to take 3 weeks or more to respond.

Collection issues: If you owe back taxes and need answers, the IRS’s central Automated Collection System (ACS) is up and running. ACS can be reached at 1-800-829-7650 or 1-800-829-3903. Taxpayers can contact the ACS to speak with a live person about skipping installment agreement payments, obtaining payoff information, and resolving past-due accounts.

Some taxpayers have used this line to ask questions about their stimulus payments and other account issues. Some ACS agents will entertain these questions, but they may try to push taxpayers to the online tool instead. 

If you are calling any of the IRS hotlines, be prepared for very long wait times. In fact, many taxpayers who call later in the day or during high call volume times are not able to get through to the IRS. Call early.

Try to create an online account for information

The best way to get your personal tax information is to access your account at IRS.gov. Your account is especially useful in obtaining past filing information. Taxpayers can try to create an IRS online account and view their transcripts. 

However, past experiences show that only about 38% of taxpayers are successful in creating an IRS online account. Most cannot pass the IRS’s strict authentication rules which include providing personal financial account information and a cell phone that is in their name.

Information needed to create an IRS online account at IRS.gov

The pandemic has shown the urgent need for the IRS to modernize its taxpayer services platform to allow taxpayers to interact with the IRS online. The IRS is in the middle of a 6-year modernization effort. Make a suggestion to the IRS on its online account at https://www.improveirs.org/submit-a-suggestion/.

Back to normal soon

IRS operations will hopefully return to normal soon. Taxpayers who need information should try IRS online resources first. However, if a taxpayer has a hardship, they should turn to their local Taxpayer Advocate’s Office. For assistance creating a strategy to address your tax issue, visit Jackson Hewitt’s Tax Resolution Hub to see the various ways we can help you.

About the Author

Jim Buttonow, CPA, CITP, is the Senior Vice President for Post-Filing Tax Services at Jackson Hewitt. He’s been a leader in helping taxpayers and tax professionals resolve tax problems with the IRS, where he had worked for 19 years in various compliance-enforcement positions. Prior to his current role, Jim’s consulting practice focused on the areas of tax controversy and tax administration, which included leading product development on tax problem software for tax professionals, testifying before Congress, advocating for IRS transparency and efficiency, and proposing innovative large-scale solutions for taxpayers and tax professionals. Jim is also the author of Tax Problems and Solutions Handbook, a publication aimed at helping tax pros work more effectively in post-filing matters and resolving their clients’ most common tax problems.

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