Tax filing trouble? What to do if you can't reach the IRS

With tax season fully underway, many Americans may be finding it hard to contact staffers at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to get their pressing filing questions answered.

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If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. A record-long partial government shutdown appears to have disrupted services for taxpayers, according a recent report from the National Taxpayer Advocate. During the first official week of tax season – which kicked off on Jan. 28 – there was a “shocking” decline in services: Fewer than half (48 percent) of calls made by people looking for help filing returns were answered, while the average wait time was about 17 minutes. During the same period last year, 86 percent of calls were answered and the wait time was only about 4 minutes.

An additional 93 percent of people who called the IRS during the last week of January about arranging installment tax payments were unable to speak with an assistant.

Meanwhile, more taxpayers may have questions this year since it is the first filing under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“These numbers translate into real harm to real taxpayers. The IRS will be facing tough decisions in light of the shutdown's impact,” advocate Nina Olson wrote in her annual report to Congress.

If you find yourself among the Americans unable to reach an IRS staff member to answer your filing questions, it may be appropriate to turn to other sources for help.

“If it’s a big enough issue, you should speak to a qualified tax preparer and seek professional advice on your personal situation,” Ed Slott, CPA and founder of IRAhelp.com, told FOX Business. “While you may be able to find some answers on your own by researching online, you can’t guarantee it’s accurate or applies to your unique situation.”

One thing you shouldn’t do, however, is fail to file on time.

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“The IRS won’t accept the ‘I couldn’t get through to you' excuse for not filing your return,” Slott said. If anything, he said taxpayers should file for an extension, which requires individuals to pay an estimate of what they will owe by the April 15 deadline in order to avoid penalties.

According to IRS stats from the week ending February 15, the agency had received 39.7 million returns, 4.8 percent fewer when compared with the same period last year. It said 37.9 million were processed.