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By Sarah Hansen
March 14, 2022
Photo collage of an IRS robot answering machine
Money; Getty Images

Trying to contact the IRS with a tax question? You might end up talking to a robot.

In an effort to keep up with taxpayer calls as it scrambles to dig itself out of a huge paperwork hole, the agency announced last week that it has started to use voice and chat bots powered by artificial intelligence. The IRS is hoping the bots can help people get answers to simple questions faster.

The troubled agency is coming off of two of the most complicated tax seasons in recent history, and IRS customer service has suffered as a result. A January report from the National Taxpayer Advocate’s office found that only 11% of calls to the IRS were actually answered by a human representative during the 2021 fiscal year. That's just 32 million out of 282 million.

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The agency says the new bots will reduce lengthy wait times. But they can't do everything.

Right now, the IRS bots can help taxpayers with issues related to one-time payments, frequently asked questions and collection notices. Later this year, the bots will be able to help taxpayers authenticate their identity to establish payment plans and request transcripts and account information. Service is available in English and Spanish.

Even as it promotes this solution to its response-time woes, the IRS insists the AI interface will not replace human customer service reps.

"Our telephone representatives remain an important part of the service we provide, but these bots can help some people avoid lengthy phone delays for something that could be resolved on the spot,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a news release. “This is part of a larger effort to help people get the assistance they need this tax season."

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How to call the IRS (and actually get through)

The bots can only help you so much. If you have a complicated issue, you’ll probably have better luck talking to a real person at the agency.

The IRS phone line for individuals is 1-800-829-1040. Service is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in your local time zone (and between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. PDT for those in Hawaii and Alaska). It’s a good idea to try calling in the morning when the lines first open.

The IRS says wait time averages about 13 minutes during filing season, though you should plan on waiting much longer than that. Wait times tend to be higher on Mondays, Tuesdays, over Presidents Day weekend and near the filing deadline.

This year, taxes are due on April 18 for most people.

Before you call, make sure you have all the following information handy: your Social Security number and birthday, your filing status (single, head of household, or married filing jointly or separately), last year’s tax return, any letters you’ve received from the IRS and the tax return you’re calling about.

If the phone wait is too arduous, you have a few other options. You can always check the status of your refund using the online Where’s My Refund? tool. You can also contact your local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center to schedule an in-person appointment. Some of these locations have even announced special Saturday hours where you can walk in without an appointment.

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