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IRS May Take Your Call, Is Unlikely to Answer Your Question

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — After remaining on hold for 20 minutes with the Internal Revenue Service, you may not get an answer to your question. The surprise is not that you couldn't get a helpful response -- but that someone even answered the phone.

Last year, nearly four in ten calls (39%) to the IRS weren't answered, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service's (TAS) annual report to Congress.

And what was bad last year is expected to get even worse this year. The IRS is cutting services even further. Through this year's filing season, the IRS will answer only "basic" tax law questions and will not respond to "more detailed" inquiries. (That is, if their representatives answer the phone.) After April 15, the IRS says it will refuse to answer any tax law question at all -- even basic ones.

"At the risk of vast understatement, it is a sad state of affairs when the government writes tax laws as complex as ours — and then is unable to answer any questions beyond 'basic' ones from baffled citizens who are doing their best to comply," says Nina E. Olson, head of the TAS.

A 2013 study by George Mason University says the Treasury fails to collect nearly $450 billion per year in unreported taxes.

"Because the tax code primarily relies on voluntary reporting of income with only a few enforcement efforts, an unanswered phone call can mean uncollected revenues," writes Jason J. Fichtner, a senior research fellow at George Mason University, in an analysis. "Economic literature suggests that simplification of the tax code by eliminating complex provisions and lowering marginal tax rates would increase income reporting."

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