IRS Takes New Approach to Tax Filing Assistance

As each year goes by, tax laws change, get more complicated, and fluctuate to benefit (and disappoint) different people. In 2014, you can expect to see several changes to federal income tax including inflation adjustments to dozens of tax items, new rules for same-sex couples, and potential penalties for failing to sign up for health care. One hallmark of the 2014 tax filing season is its postponement by several weeks, thanks to the recent government shutdown. But 2014 will also mark the beginning of a different type of tax change—not only to the amount we pay, but to the way we file.

The new IRS tax guide

This month, the IRS announced the release of a “newly revised comprehensive tax guide,” otherwise known as Publication 17, to help people file their taxes during the new year. The guide touts its interactive links, and details on “tax-saving opportunities.” Among the additions to the IRS guide is information on the American Opportunity Tax Credit which affects college students and their parents, as well as Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

Provided by the IRS since the 1940’s, the new edition of the guide still includes information on reporting income, capital gains and losses, IRA’s and other basic information. But at 292 pages, it seems unlikely that your average tax-payer will find the time to take full advantage of the resource. Given the increasing complexity of Federal income tax, it is no surprise that the IRS posts almost daily updates to forms and instructions to its site.

Less face-to-face assistance

Cuts to the IRS budget—courtesy of sequestration—mean that there will be far fewer resources for in-person tax filing assistance. In lieu of a human being, taxpayers will be referred to a variety of online tools, including over 13,000 volunteer partner sites, and resources on like the IRS Free File program. Even basic inquiries will now be handled online or through various hotlines.

More services move online

Though the lack of walk-in assistance will undoubtedly be frustrating for many people, others will be relieved to know they can handle more tax-related issues online than ever. Tax payers can now view and authenticate their tax transcripts online. The IRS will also continue to provide Employee Identification Numbers via its website. To avoid handling questions about the whereabouts of tax refunds over the phone, the IRS will now handle all related questions online.

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