As the federal government shutdown approaches its fourth week, the Internal Revenue Service today unveiled its contingency plan for the upcoming tax filing season. Most IRS operations have been closed since funding for the agency ran out on December 22, 2018, and most IRS employees have been furloughed since that date.
Notwithstanding the shutdown, the IRS has announced that tax filing season will begin on January 28, 2019, for individual taxpayers. In today’s announcement, the IRS noted that taxpayers should be mindful of the following points during what it called “this challenging period”:
- File electronically. The IRS will accept paper and electronic tax returns, but taxpayers are urged to file electronically to speed processing and refunds.
- Tax refunds. Refunds will be paid, but the IRS cautions that returns will continue to be subject to refund fraud, identity theft and other internal reviews as in prior years.
- Tax filing. Taxpayers can start working on their returns in advance of the January 28 opening. Both tax software and tax professionals will be available and working in advance of IRS systems opening. Software companies and tax professionals will then submit the returns when the IRS systems open. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically to minimize errors and for faster refunds.
The IRS also warned taxpayers that the agency will continue to offer only limited operations during the shutdown, as follows:
- Automated applications. IRS.gov and many automated applications remain available, including such things as Where’s My Refund, the IRS2go phone app and online payment agreements.
- Telephones. No live telephone customer service assistance is currently available, although the IRS will be adding staff to answer some of the telephone lines in the coming days. Due to the heavier call volume, taxpayers should be prepared for longer wait times. Most automated toll-free telephone applications will remain operational. The IRS encourages people to use IRS.gov for information.
- In-person service. IRS walk-in taxpayer assistance centers (TACs) are closed. That means those offices are unable to handle large cash payments or assist identity theft victims required to visit an IRS office to establish their identity. In-person assistance will not be available for taxpayers experiencing a hardship.
- Taxpayer appointments. While the government is closed, people with appointments related to audits, collection, Appeals, or Taxpayer Advocate cases should assume their meetings are cancelled. IRS personnel will reschedule those meetings at a later date, when the IRS reopens.
- Taxpayer correspondence. While able to receive mail, the IRS will be responding to paper correspondence to only a very limited degree during this lapse period. Taxpayers who mail in correspondence to the IRS during this period should expect a lengthy delay for a response after the IRS reopens due to a growing correspondence backlog.
- Tax-exempt groups. The IRS will not be processing applications or determinations for tax-exempt status or pension plans.
- Enforcement activity. During this period, the IRS will not be conducting audits, but automated initial contact letters will continue to be mailed. No collection activity will generally occur except for automated collection activity. For example, automated IRS collection notices will continue to be mailed. Criminal Investigation work, however, continues during this period.
- Passports. The IRS will not be certifying for the State Department any individuals for passport eligibility.
For tax professionals and others interested in a more detailed view of IRS operations during the shutdown, there is an extensive listing available in the filing season lapse plan.
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