Not all questions can be answered by a computer—especially when it comes to your taxes. But when you call the IRS, it may seem impossible to get a real human to take your call.
These circumstances have worsen in the last year, as the pandemic still exhausted the notoriously understaffed agency, which also faces an overabundance of investigations following a unusually complicated tax year and in the midst of potential confusion over changes to the child tax credit that will see payments distributed monthly. Even so, sometimes you just need to talk to a person. Here’s how you can reach someone quickly.
How long will you have to wait to talk to someone at the IRS?
The IRS received more than 100 million calls last year, but only 1 in 4 callers were ultimately successful in reaching an IRS employee, according to a recent National Taxpayer Advocate. report. Most callers are either frustrated with the long waits or tired of the complicated phone tree that only leads from one automated message to another, so they just hang up.
If you hang in there, the IRS says you can expect an average wait of 27 minutes when you call between May and December, with the the longest wait times are generally Mondays and Tuesdays. however, many on social media claim calls still take up to 2-3 hours or more. In 2017, a large enQ, Inc. study found that the best times of day to call were before 9 a.m. on the east coast and after 5 p.m. on the west coast.
What to do before calling the IRS
The IRS recommends checking its online resources before calling. He has a list of common problems who might have the answer to your question about your tax return, payments, or identity theft issues.
How to reach a real person at the IRS
Someone does not pick up on the second ring when you call the IRS. You need to browse a menu to be routed to find an agent for your problem, if one exists.
The IRS phone number is 1-800-829-1040, and they are available from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday. Accounting Amy northard offers this cheat sheet to navigate the IRS phone menu on his blog:
The first question the automated system will ask you is to choose your language.
Once you have set your language, do not choose option 1 (regarding refund information).
Press 2 for “For answers on your personal income taxes …” instead.
Following, press 1 for “For questions about the form you have already submitted …”
Following, press 3 “for all other matters.”
Following, press 2 “for all other matters.”
When the system asks you to enter your SSN or EIN to access your account information, do not enter anything.
After asking twice, you will be prompted for another menu.
Following, press 2 for “personal or individual tax matters”
To finish, press 4 for all other requests. The system should then transfer you to an agent.
(Lifehacker tried several times, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and we were able to reach an agent in about 30 minutes on average).
Make sure you are ready before you call the IRS with questions
Before you call, make sure you have gathered everything you might need while traveling with the agent. Theirs recommended have the following items ready:
- Social security numbers (SSN) and dates of birth
- Individual tax identification number (ITIN) for taxpayers without a social security number
- Filing status – single, head of household, married filing jointly or married filing separately
- Income tax return for the previous year
- Income tax return for which you are calling
- Any correspondence the IRS sent to you
What to do if you can’t reach anyone at the IRS
If you live near a local IRS office it’s reopen after the height of the pandemic, you may want to skip the main phone line and call it directly. They probably can’t answer your questions over the phone, but your taxpayer help desk (check the state-by-state directory here) can schedule a face-to-face date (with social distancing, of course) so that you can enlist the help of an agent.
If you still have trouble getting help from a real person, try contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service. It is an independent office within the IRS that exists to help people with their ongoing tax problems.
This story was originally published in 2020 and updated on February 9, 2021 with new information. It was updated again on June 10, 2021 with additional context and to align with the current Lifehacker style.