12 signs you are spending too much time with the IRS

Time is always a precious commodity for a tax professional, especially during filing season. Many clients bring you old notices and IRS issues during the busiest time of year. Many of these notices require a contact to the IRS. In fact, the IRS gets most of their phone calls during the busy season when taxpayers come to terms with that notice or want to finally resolve an issue with the IRS. During tax season, some tax pros feel they are on constant speed-dial with the IRS.

Here are a few warning signs to know when you have called the IRS too much.

1. You can’t get the IRS hold music out of your mind
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It is not like you have the IRS hold music on your Apple Music playlist. It is more like a Disney, “It’s a small world after all” sensation. I really think the IRS spent some of their budget to get a song that is supposed to calm the caller before they answer the call. This song is so hypnotic that it has put me in a state of hypnosis a few times. For those of you wondering, the name of the song is “One to One” by Fresh Optimism (Fresh Optimism and the IRS, really?? That’s funny). For a full HD version, go here.

You can play a contest with yourself during the hold music by trying to time when you are going to hear the IRS recorded message, “Our representatives are still helping other customers, please continue to hold” or “Your call is very important to us, please stay on the line for the next available representative.”
2. You get the same IRS employee on the phone again
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This is IRS déjà vu. With over 80,000 IRS employees (albeit only a few thousand in the call centers), it is almost impossible to get the same person twice. Apparently, I have beaten these odds because I have had this happen more than once. Even more shocking, I have had the representative remember me and refer to a past client call. I was shocked a few months ago when an IRS rep said, “Sir, when I spoke with you eight weeks ago about another client, I looked at their complete tax history. Do you want me to do that again?” I was shocked -- what a memory. I want this guy’s direct phone number.
3. You can tell in the first 15 seconds if you have a reliable representative or not
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You know when you have an experienced rep when they can rip through the disclosure authentication questions without even glancing at their call script. In the first few seconds, you can tell if the representative is having a good day by the tone of their voice and if they wish to be helpful.

If they have to put you on the “5-7 minute hold” in the first part of your conversation beware -- unfortunately you have found a newbie who has to ask their manager or colleague a ton of questions. Better add 30 minutes to the total length of the call and the likelihood that you will have to call again to validate the rep’s responses. Better yet, if you have a complicated issue, you may just want to hang up immediately and call back to get someone else with more experience.
4. You already have your authorization ready to fax during the call
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After a number of calls to the IRS, you are looking for shortcuts to lessen your time on the phone. Tax pros who regularly interact with the IRS instinctively know the number of days needed for the IRS to record their Form 2848 or 8821 with the IRS CAF Unit. You know if the authorization is likely not on file with the IRS and you will need to fax it on the call to discuss the taxpayer’s account. In preparation, you ready your e-fax with the authorization already attached and wait for the IRS fax number for the representative.

From experience, you try to shortcut the time on the call by pre-emptively starting the call by telling the agent that the 2848/8821 is not recorded on CAF yet so that they just give you their fax number immediately. This allows you to fax your authorization while the rep researches your questions. If you let them go through their questions first to verify that the 2848/8821 is not on the CAF, you have added another “5-7 minutes” wait cycle to your call.
5. You repeat their required caution statements by memory
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How about this one for those of us requesting faxed transcripts: “Do you realize that fax is not a secured form of transmission? Is your fax secure? Do you consent to receive it by your fax?” Or this one if you are requesting faxed transcripts: “The transcript delivery system will make three attempts in the next 24 hours to fax the transcripts”…… (c’mon – you can finish this one!).
6. You can give them your CAF# in a tune
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I like to sing back my CAF# using the same chorus for the iconic Tommy Tutone song “867-5309/Jenny.” Now the IRS representative sometimes finds this amusing, but mostly not.
7. You schedule coffee breaks to coincide with your IRS calls
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You know you have about five minutes every time you go on hold to do something … go get some coffee, chat with a co-worker, go to the restroom, run a four-minute mile … . The IRS rep queues you for that break time: “I am going to put you on hold, please give me 5-7 minutes to research your request.” Bam! I am going to microwave my lunch.
8. You find better ways to multi-task when calling the IRS
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Check your email, complete a tax return, write a letter – all can be done at your desk with long hold times waiting for and when speaking with IRS representatives. If you are chained to your desk for the day, I suggest investing in a wireless headset. The “hands-free experience” increases productivity greatly. If you call with your cell phone, the opportunities to do other things are almost endless. Some of us who work from home take the cell phone use a step further. Using our cell phone allows you to do a variety of things: wash the car, mow the lawn, or even practice your putting. One time I even made a Starbucks run for a quick chai latte.
9. You dial in advance because you know what your hold time will be
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You called so many times that know your wait time. If I am calling the IRS Practitioner Priority Line late in the day, I can start my call about 15 minutes before. If it is a compliance or specialized customer service unit, like the Innocent Spouse Unit, I start my call at 7:30AM, take a shower, go out to breakfast, stop by and fill up my car with gas, and arrive at the office in time for the IRS to pick up (#efficiency!).
10. You have multiple clients ready to discuss if you get a good rep
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This is a well-honed best practice. A good representative that knows IRS rules is invaluable -and you always have four more clients on the back burner to ask questions when you find a good rep.

Recently I had an IRS PPS representative who really knew how first-time penalty abatement worked for business taxpayers. They were able to manually adjust the account because they had done it before. Eureka! I had three other clients with similar circumstances at my fingertips that I gave him – all done in one phone call. I immediately wrote his name down in case I got him again (not likely, see No. 2 above). I have always wished the IRS would give its representatives “star” ratings like they do with Cracker Barrel restaurant servers. “Hi, I’m Mr. Smith, ID number 1000-777555, and I have 4 stars. How may I help you?”
11. You have overheard other IRS representatives in the background talking with other taxpayers
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Your talking with your IRS representative and while they are working on your issue, you overhear other representatives in the call center talking loudly to other taxpayers or tax professionals.

A few years ago, Howard Stern got in trouble for airing an IRS rep background discussion with a taxpayer while the rep was calling his show. This is where a call can get uncomfortable – I usually explain to the IRS rep that I can hear the other rep “loud and clear” in the background and that I don’t want to hear the story why Mr. Taxpayer could not provide their mileage receipts to the IRS because his dog ate his mileage log. This potential privacy violation callout usually results in more hold and “quiet” time on the call. I suspect that it also adds to more discussion after the call amongst IRS employees about the significance of IRC Section 6103 and unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information.
12. You have binge-watched an entire show during your IRS hold time
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If you are not prepared to multi-task, you will find yourself searching for a distraction. Recently, when on hold with the IRS, many of my colleagues have told me that they are re-familiarizing themselves with past “Game of Thrones” episodes. Continuous calls with long hold times often inspire many other tax pros to take up worthwhile projects. I think one colleague of mine actually got their MBA online during IRS hold times.

A few IRS phone service center hotlines take well over an hour on hold: the Taxpayer Advocate, Correspondence Exam, the CP2000 Unit, Automated Collection (especially late in the day), the Innocent Spouse Unit, and the Taxpayer Assistance Center appointment scheduler. Calls to these units offer the best opportunity to watch a full episode of “True Detective” before the IRS picks up your call.
More?
Many of my colleagues can add a few more to this list. In all seriousness, I find that much of the time spent on the phone with the IRS would be better spent by having immediate access to the information and the ability to interact electronically. I rarely call my bank or any of my service providers because I can do almost anything online.

In the age of online customer service, we should be able to get our tax information online (in a readable format) and communicate/interact with our tax administrator electronically. The IRS is experimenting with online chat and has made some progress with online account capabilities. But the fact remains, most taxpayers have no idea about their tax situation and information after they file. If they must interact, it can be hard to navigate the IRS – and even harder to get through to speak with a person. For the IRS, phone interaction is expensive (in 2015, it was said to be around $42 a call). We need more modernized options.

Take it from the tax pros who must deal with the IRS everyday – spending less time on the phone with the IRS is a better for everyone.