Interactive Tax Assistant 101

Ask the Internal Revenue Service Your Tax Questions without Spending Hours Stuck on Hold

Interactive Tax Assistant  101
February 19, 2016

Last year was a rough year for customer service at the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS subjected 8.8 million taxpayers to "courtesy disconnects" through the 2014 tax-filing season that ended in mid-2015. "Courtesy disconnects" are a euphemism for hanging up on taxpayers after a prolonged hold time. In the previous tax year, there were “only” 544,000 courtesy disconnects.

Even if a taxpayer managed to get through, he or she wasted lots of precious time just waiting to speak to an IRS representative. The average wait time was 23 minutes in 2015, up from fourteen in 2014. Budget cuts were blamed for the decline in customer service, and the situation is not expected to be drastically different this year.

Fortunately, the IRS has many other methods and resources that can handle the more common questions without having to waste 23 minutes of your life waiting to speak to an IRS representative. One of the more useful resources is the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA). ITA is an interactive online assistant that can help you with many questions regarding tax law.

Once you search for a topic, ITA will respond and ask a series of questions that leads you to the answers that you are looking for. Answer the initial questions and use the "Continue Button" to move forward to the next question screen, based on your responses. After the final response is generated, you can choose to print out the entire interview and/or the final response. Note: Do not use the "back" button with ITA; it can cause a system error that will require you to exit and start a new session.

There is a separate list of topics on the ITA website that lists some of the more common questions such as "What is the Simplest Form to Use to File My Taxes?" and "Can I Deduct My Mortgage Related Expenses?" You can choose to use the links on that list if one of the topics fits your situation.

In the event the ITA cannot address your question, you could be sent to the Tax Trails application at IRS.gov. It will direct you to other resources that can address your concerns.

The ITA assumes that you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, and have been so for the entire tax year in question. If you are married, your spouse must also meet the same criteria. Otherwise, the advice you get from the site may not apply. Look up IRS Publication 519, "US Tax Guide for Aliens," for assistance in that case.

Keep in mind that the answers on the ITA should not be considered as written advice to any specific request of yours, as defined in the tax code. See the disclaimer on the ITA website for details. In other words, it is best for you to verify the answer to your question within other IRS sources later, because the ITA response would not hold up in court in case of a dispute about the advice provided.

If you do not mind multi-tasking while you are on the phone or simply would rather talk to a person regarding your tax issue, good luck getting the IRS on the phone. However, we suggest trying the ITA program first. You may be able to get your answer in a much shorter time and free up an IRS agent to solve somebody else's more complex problem. It's a win-win situation for everybody. Now, what will you do with the extra 23 minutes in your life?


Photo ©iStock.com/KajdiSzabolcs

  Conversation   |   22 Comments

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Erin | 02.19.16 @ 21:01
It sounds like the IRS isn't interested in talking to you unless you owe them money. That's disappointing. It's good to know that there is somewhere else you can potentially get help.
Irene | 02.19.16 @ 21:02
I know first hand that it is difficult to get a straight answer from anyone at the IRS.
Steffanie | 02.19.16 @ 21:02
This sounds like a good alternative to what we have. Will definitely be keeping it in mind.
Carla Truett | 02.19.16 @ 21:02
I'm glad there are resources to answer your questions. We use a local tax service so we don't have to use them.
Alec | 02.19.16 @ 21:03
I avoid calling anywhere like this at all costs due to the wait time. I exhaust all my other options beforehand. I feel sorry for anyone who needs to call in this year. Hopefully the taxes have been more streamlined online this year so so many people won't need to call!
Amanda | 02.19.16 @ 21:04
So use the ITA but still have to talk to someone to make sure the information is given correct. Sort of defeats the purpose it seems. The IRS is always slow to answer my average wait til has been 45 mins. It's faster to call a rep at a tax office and get their answer. In my experience.
Bobbie | 02.19.16 @ 21:08
I've been on hold with IRS before. It was a long drawn out process, and it seems like every agent gives you a different answers. Make sure to take notes of when and what time you call and who you talk too with EVER conversation including who transfers to yo whom.
Christina | 02.19.16 @ 21:11
The IRS should in no way have the extreme powers it has. Even if THEY make an error, it's YOUR responsibility to find a way to fix it. Ridiculous.
Meredith L | 02.19.16 @ 21:13
I haven't had an opportunity to use the interactive online approach. I am one of the masses who did make a phone call and waited about 20 minutes to speak to a human being. My preferred form of communication with anything government. There was an option to leave my number so they could call back, but I didn't use it because my trust level is kind of low.
trish | 02.19.16 @ 21:16
wow...so far we haven't had to do much answering to the IRS. Good to see there is an option to find answers without having to waste time waiting on the phone. I love a good IT chat!
Beverly | 02.19.16 @ 21:16
I've never had good luck dealing with IRS customer service. The phone wait times are forever and most of the time you never get the same answer twice
Leah Gardner | 02.19.16 @ 21:21
I found that the one time I had to call the IRS it was beneficial to have them call me back. It kept my spot in the que line and called me back when it was my turn. Im thankful it worked tho. I wish I had known about this ITA sooner.
Elaine | 02.19.16 @ 21:28
Disappointing in how many gov places are only interested in themselves and not the people they actually serve.
brittany.martinez530 | 02.19.16 @ 21:33
Hm, It sounds like they're really just wanting their money without having to actually talk to cutomers and such. that's really disheartening and upsetting. Oh well.. this is why I have someone do it for me.
Wanda Langley | 02.19.16 @ 21:33
I have been put on the IRS hold Line. I think it was more like 30 Minutes for me and do not want to go through that again. Glad there is some where else to look for Answers.
Kailie | 02.19.16 @ 21:34
That's rather annoying not being able to get straight answers and help from the IRS, especially when you're just trying to get stuff straightened out.
Kyle | 02.19.16 @ 21:37
This is one of the big reasons why I have people help me out when it comes to taxes. I have had the WORST luck when it comes to calling and trying to get straight answers. This just confirms that.
gracie | 02.19.16 @ 21:53
It's good to see several alternatives for getting information that I had not been aware of previously. Getting anyone on the phone these days feels like it's getting harder or costing us money to speak with a human.
Sarah | 02.19.16 @ 21:53
Oooh. Cool. I like this much better than hoping to get through on a phone then actually having to talk to someone.
Jo Ann | 02.19.16 @ 22:07
Contacting the IRS and actually talking to someone is a nightmare, At least this tool helps answer some questions. I dislike dealing with the IRS anyway as I am sure most people do. It is just a shame that all the information you do get from them isn't consistent.
Kamie | 02.19.16 @ 22:18
I never knew there was an actual website to look for an answer to a question. Definitely rather spend time looking there than on hold listening to static music. But, it is sad that there are cuts in something that gets a lot of traffic.
patriciapotpie | 02.20.16 @ 21:38
How much does a person have to have in medical expenses for the year in order for them to be tax deductable?
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.09.16 @ 11:59
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