Government

Spike in tax questions means long wait on phone for Iowans

Iowa Revenue Department reports some callers waiting four hours

Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual Income Tax forms on Feb. 17, 2016. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)
Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual Income Tax forms on Feb. 17, 2016. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Confusion over federal tax law changes coupled with a delay in processing tax returns has caused a spike in questions to the Iowa Department of Revenue, with some Iowans who called the agency in January on hold for up to four hours.

“We were on hold for an hour and a half and then they stopped taking calls at 4:15 p.m.,” said John Good, 33, of Des Moines.

He and his wife, Aimee Good, both had been trying to get through to Revenue employees last week to ask about back taxes owed by John’s father’s estate. “We can’t move forward with the estate until we talk with someone,” John Good said Friday.

The Revenue Department reported the average wait time Jan. 1 through Jan. 25 was 48 minutes — more than double the average wait time of 21 minutes in January 2018.

But when Aimee Good complained Jan. 25 on Facebook about being on hold for more than an hour, the Revenue Department apologized, saying “wait times are looking to be around 4 hours due to high volume of W-2 and 1099 questions.”

The department averaged 1,297 calls per day in January, more than double the 645 average calls per day it received in December 2018 and nearly double the 703 calls per day in January 2018, according to Revenue Department spokesman John Fuller.

Despite the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act going into effect Jan. 1, 2018, nearly half (48 percent) of Americans don’t understand how it affects them, according to studies commissioned by NerdWallet and done by the Harris Poll.

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Virtually all taxpayers can expect changes under the law, the most sweeping change to federal tax code in 30 years, H & R Block reported. Taxpayers who itemize will have fewer expenses to deduct and a higher standard deduction, while families can expect changes to child-related tax benefits.

The Internal Revenue Service started accepting federal tax returns Monday after the partial government shutdown ended last week. Waiting for the IRS, the Iowa Revenue Department also started processing returns this week, Fuller said. These delays are expected to stall refunds, which already have been slower in recent years because, the department has said, of efforts to prevent tax fraud.

“Last year, the department identified $34.6 million in fraudulent or erroneous refund claims,” Fuller said. “This included $16.5 million in mistakes found on returns and $18.1 million in claims stopped by our fraud review processes.”

To deal with questions, the Revenue Department added 20 staff members to assist with calls last week, Fuller said. The agency encourages taxpayers to check the tax.iowa.gov website or email through tax.iowa.gov/webform/iowa-tax-question.

“If calling is a must,” the Revenue Department responded to a Google review, “there is a virtual hold option where you’re placed in the queue and a representative will call you back vs you having to sit on the phone. You can even schedule a time convenient for you on a different day. These options are usually only presented when you call earlier in the day as they may also fill up.”

The Revenue Department phone number is (800) 367-3388.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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