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Dealing With the IRS Could Get Even Worse

House Holds Hearing On Current Federal Income Tax StructureHouse Holds Hearing On Current Federal Income Tax Structure
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson listens during a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee.Photograph by Brendan Smialowski — Getty Images

Having to contact the IRS is something no one wants to have to do, and taxpayer advocates are warning it could get even more difficult.

The agency’s five-year plan includes the development of an online platform to make it easier for taxpayers to find information. Though it could simplify certain processes, CNN Money reports that it presents a potentially significant disadvantage.

In her annual report to Congress, U.S. Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson writes that the IRS intends “to substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interactions with taxpayers.” She thinks that the agency needs to be “much more specific about how much personal taxpayer assistance it expects to provide.”

Giving taxpayers online accounts will likely reduce the need for personal assistance, but Olson doesn’t think it will be reduced as much as expected. The IRS will still need to provide personal assistance to the millions of taxpayers without Internet access and the many others who are wary of airing out their finances online. Even for those who choose to set up an account, the online platform won’t be able to address issues that aren’t “cookie cutter.”

The IRS also outlined plans to encourage taxpayers to seek advice from paid tax preparers. Combined with the reduction of personal assistance, Olson worries that only people who can afford to pay for financial advice will receive it while everyone else “will be left struggling for themselves.”

The IRS thinks that the new self-service platform will make personal assistance available to those who really need it. The agency maintains that it’s “fully committed to personal service to taxpayers.”