IRS Taxpayer Experience Officer Says to Open Your Email Now

The Internal Revenue Service is on a charm offensive, as long as you don’t make too much money.

After a multi-year pandemic pause, the agency is restarting its collections efforts, underscoring its intention to go after the highest earners who owe the most. On Thursday, the IRS said it was sending letters to more than 25,000 people with more than $1 million in income who had not filed tax returns since 2017.

Everyone else, the agency insists, will benefit from the $80 billion the agency earned through the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in 2022. The year before, the IRS named Ken Corbin as its first director of taxpayer experience.

So what do you do all day? I went to the agency’s headquarters in Washington to find out, which was an experience in itself.

First, the security guards put a wand in my shoes. After a few beeps, they scanned my stockinged feet. Once properly credentialed (with the words “Accompanying Only” in the largest font), I had an hour with Mr. Corbin. What follows is a condensed version, edited for clarity, of our conversation and his advice for contributors like you and me.

So what is a philosophy student like you doing in a place like this?

My wife of 25 years was studying philosophy and wanted her to go out with me.

In reality, he was studying chemistry and philosophy and, to pay for college, he worked nights for the IRS, where he had started at age 16 in a work-study program. I remember applying to medical schools and talking to other people about the costs. And my mother asked me what my reason was for wanting to be a doctor. I really like solving problems and helping people.

She wisely told me, “Aren’t you serving people from the IRS?” At that point I started thinking more about government and my job became a career.

Why was it necessary to create the chief experience officer role?

We really needed to look at how people experience the IRS

One thing I’m really excited about and think is a good measure of the experience is a feature we call client callback.

Here’s a measure of success for me: we’ve saved over 600,000 hours this year alone of people having to wait.

The goal was to have that feature available to 95 percent of taxpayers applying for assistance by July. Did you hit him?

We surpassed 95 and we are at 97 percent.

I’m very happy to say that on our main phone line this year, when you queue, we answered the phone in less than five minutes, on average. In fact, we’re two minutes in right now.

It’s only February.

It’s early in the filing season.

Talk to me on April 12.

I will do that.

Can the call back system predict approximately when someone will call me back that day?

I don’t think that’s the case right now, and I think that’s an improvement I want.

When is the best time to call? Is it like trying to get tickets to a concert? in the old dayswhere you called the phone line exactly one second before the sale time?

Tuesday to Thursday. Mondays are days with a lot of telephone traffic. People over the weekend file their taxes or can’t file them, or some people may have received a little love note from the IRS and don’t want to open it until the weekend, when they can reflect on it a little. .

The agency has a lot of new money available. You must be licking your chops. What are you using it for and do you expect people to notice it first?

We have hired around 5,000 customer service representatives. We have also hired around 800 in-person attendees. We’ve had what we call taxpayer experience days, where we’re open on Saturdays at our walk-in centers. We do one a month during filing season.

We can also have our employees work longer hours at the centers, meaning we open earlier in the day and stay open later in the evening. That allows people who have 9-to-5 jobs to come in.

I hope people realize that you can talk to us now. During the pandemic it was difficult for us. The economic impact payments delayed us in our normal work.

Here’s something on many people’s wish lists: being able to securely send messages about an issue, with the same person responding so you don’t have to start over every time.

We are already testing and learning about secure messaging with some of our business customers. It may not be the same person who answers you, but I think we are very close to creating those trips.

If I had to predict when I’ll be able to do this myself, I’d say 2038. Do you want to put your hand on a Bible and promise something sooner?

I wouldn’t put my hand on a Bible, just because so much of our ability to do things depends on the laws passed and the funds we have.

Heard. What do people tactically get wrong when trying to resolve problems with the IRS?

They get a letter or something from the IRS and they don’t open it. They won’t read it. I’m being honest with you: that’s number one. I want you to open the letter. Let’s find out how to solve the problem.

Couldn’t you fix this by putting something like “We may owe you money” on the front of the envelope?

This is where the laws get complicated. Believe it or not, if we put on the front of the envelope that we owe you money, we are actually revealing something about you that we can’t reveal, that anyone can see.

Even if it says “could”?

That’s a revelation.

How do you do your own taxes?

As an experienced officer, I want to know all kinds of things that exist. I have used software packages. I have made paper.

Do you have any favorite deductions that you have been able to make personally?

The standard deduction is probably my favorite. It’s one of the easiest ones that people can relate to.

I recently spent time with teenage volunteers working as tax preparers. They have observed that the more money you earn, the more and better access you will have to deductions in this country. That doesn’t seem fair, so his question was this: What about that?

That’s a great question. We at the IRS administer the tax laws. So that’s really a Congressional question. But as the years go by, there are definitely benefits and things available to most taxpayers.

In a perfect world, some of those teenagers become CPAs at age 26 and come to work for you at age 32…

I already love it.

But if they are discouraged by the justice of the system, how can they be convinced to stop being discouraged?

I would tell them that there are different ways that you can be part of the tax ecosystem and be an advocate. You can work for the IRS. There’s the Taxpayer Advocate Service, where you can work with the department and on Capitol Hill on different ways of looking at how tax administration works. You can come in and be an experience officer.

We all play a role, whether you are a filer or an employee.

Have you ever been audited?

I don’t think I can answer that question.

Is there a law? You can reveal about yourself, right?

Yes, but I wouldn’t reveal that about myself. My wife would kill me.