5 Tips When Calling the IRS – How to Talk to a Real Person

Calling the IRS

If you need to call the IRS and talk to a person to get help, you most likely are already frustrated and stressed. Placing the call doesn’t help your anxiety level because it is easy to get lost in the myriad of automated responses… “Choose 1 for this”, “Choose 2 for that”, etc. Sometimes you find yourself in a never ending loop, and you just want someone to help you.

Maybe, listening closely to the automated messages and making the correct choices will get you to the right department, but even then, there may not be an option to actually talk to a person. Automated response systems often are built on the assumption that the caller knows specifically what they need and can help themselves.  There are many I already know the information that the automated system is trying to provide, and I want to talk to a person to get additional information or to determine what my options are.

 Updated 2/16/2015… I was reading a recent tax industry newsletter that said the IRS will not be helpful in answering tax questions. In the past, we’ve discussed the low accuracy rate of answers the IRS agents have given callers, but that is not what this report meant by “not be helpful”. In 2015, callers will most likely not even be given a direct answer, but will be referred to an IRS Publication or another resource on the IRS.gov website so that the caller can help themselves. This truly is “not being helpful”. The only exception is if your questions pertain to the health reform law.  But you still have to get through to a live person first. It’s been reported that the IRS expects to only be able to answer fewer than half the calls it receives.

Here are 5 helpful tips to get through to a real person:

1. Have all the information close by that you will need to demonstrate tat you are who you say you are, and then discuss the specific factual matters of the issue.

2. Be prepared to wait while you are on hold. I always have something to work on so that I’m not wasting my time. It can be 5 minutes, or 30 minutes. If you are prepared for this wait, then it isn’t as bad as it would otherwise be. By the way, I hope you like to listen to classical music. The IRS’s on-hold music of choice for the last gazillion years is “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” by Tchaikovsky from the Nutcracker.

3. Make sure you are calling the right telephone number. After waiting for such a long time, and then carefully explaining the situation, you don’t want to hear that you need to call someone else in the IRS because they aren’t the right department. If you are calling in response to a notice or letter that you received, check for the appropriate telephone number in the correspondence. This may be your only way you can talk to a real person.

Once you get through to a real person at the IRS, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will get the help you need. If you need it, please get professional help (see step 5. below). CPAs and other professional tax advisors have additional options to communicate directly with the IRS and assist you in getting to the bottom of the problem.

4. Calling the published telephone numbers.  If you don’t have a telephone number readily available, go to the IRS Telephone Assistance Page on the IRS web site. Listen carefully as you navigate through the automated choices to get to the correct department. You will need to enter the appropriate information, and the information you receive will be automated responses from the computer looking up data. I hope you are able to get the answer you need, but I’m usually looking for the less obvious and the standard IRS phone numbers seldom work for me.

I really hate these systems and applaud companies that have a real person answer the telephone when I call Customer “Service”.

This post has been updated because the following two tricks using the published numbers no longer work:  :-(

  • I used to be able to select “0” for Operator at any point, tricking the system and getting transferred to a person. I would then summarize the situation, and be directed to the correct department. The IRS has changed their automatic response system, and that no longer works.
  • Then, I was able to trick the system by not responding at all. After awhile, I would get transferred to a person, briefly summarize the situation, and then be sent to the correct department. But, they have changed their system so that this also no longer works.

If anyone has learned a new trick to get through using the published telephone number, please share it with us by commenting below!

5. Let Your Tax Professional Call for You.  Sometimes, you just need help. Tax professionals are provided with a Practitioner Priority Service that we can communicate directly with experienced, knowledgeable IRS agents. As of January 6, 2014, the IRS has limited the types of communications it will process through this service, but as long as it is from tax professionals who are actively working with their clients to resolve tax account issues, we can help obtain the information needed to make progress. Form 2848 “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representation” are required to establish the proper authorization to speak in your behalf.

Were you able to get through to a real person? If so, please leave a comment below and share your trick. Maybe you can help someone else.


Circular 230 Disclosure: This is to advise you that, unless expressly stated, nothing in this communication (including any attachment or other accompanying materials) was intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties, or for promoting, marketing, or recommending a partnership or other entity, investment plan or arrangement to anyone.


7 Responses to 5 Tips When Calling the IRS – How to Talk to a Real Person

  1. Mark Weller September 22, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    No trick here – just waited. I called in to pay off my taxes – but I needed the total including fees which wasn’t available on the website. Called in to the appropriate line at 2:44 PM which I thought might be a lower volume time. Waited 1 hour 16 minutes and the clerk answered right after 4 PM. They were polite and knew the answer to my question and got me the total I needed. In between I put in a load of wash, read a whole pile of online articles and changed the baby.

    • Rick Howard September 29, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

      Great comment Mark. Calling the correct number and being prepared to wait IS key.

      Partly, it is about expectations. You just need to know that you will have to wait to talk to someone. Being productive while you wait will help keep the frustration in check.

      Having the correct telephone number is SO important. Even if you have been productive while you wait, it is so aggravating when you have used the wrong telephone number and subsequently find out you have to begin the process again (they most often can’t transfer you to another department).


  2. David Mizell December 7, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    All I want is to find out my balance on my installment plan for my 2012 tax return, which had been audited last year due to an old mortgage interest discrepancy in which they told me I owed them money.

    I’ve been paying on this bill for almost a year and now I want to pay it off. Last time I tried to check my balance for an installment plan, I spent a couple hours in line at a local IRS office. I’d prefer to avoid that this time, so I’m trying to call the IRS number (1-800-829-1040) but the automated recording doesn’t give you options for calling on a previous year’s tax return. Option #1 is checking status on refund, Option #2 is checking status on “amended 1040-X tax return”.

    I went for Option #2, but after entering all my info I was told I didn’t have an “amended 1040-X tax return”. What the automatic recording doesn’t ask for initially is the tax year for the return, they just ask for SS#, zip code and DOB. I tried both my current zip code and the previous zip code where I lived in 2012, neither one worked to get through to the next level.

    So I guess I’m left with no choice but to take a half day off of work to go pay off my ****ing balance on my back taxes. The bottom line is that no matter how you look at it, the IRS is the absolutely most ****ED UP agency in the entire world, every single thing about the agency including their website and phone system is complete BULL****.

    And of course it will never change unless the government can wise up and make a hostile takeover of the IRS, fire every single stupid ****ed up person, and restructure it in a manner based on the advice of the most intelligent minds in this country, and create an agency that we can all support and be reasonable happy with!

    Hey, who can ask for help about the IRS without a rant to bash that ****ED UP agency!


    • Rick Howard December 9, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Dave. I “*”ed a few of your words so that I could share your “rant”. Many people are just as frustrated and can empathize.

      The system doesn’t work very well, and if your scenario doesn’t fit certain criteria, it may not work at all.

      Your original installment agreement and notification may have specific contact information.

      It’s too bad there isn’t a decent place to be able to look it up, or an “operator” option when calling just to let taxpayers explain their situation to a real person and then be directed to the appropriate department. How’s that for “tax simplification”!


  3. Susan December 14, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    We are trying to close on a house, and the bank where we’re getting the loan told us that when they contacted the IRS through their 3rd party service to get a transcript of our 2014 Income Tax, they were told that our account is “frozen”. I asked why our account would be “frozen”, and they told me they’ve seen that happen when there has been identity theft or someone tried to get your refund, etc. I have spent hours trying to get to talk to a live person at the IRS, but haven’t been successful yet! It took me a long time going through the IRS menu trying to get an option to talk to someone. After several times of calling and trying different options on the menu, I finally got put on hold and felt like I might get to talk to a human. Then, after holding for a long time, I got a message that because of the question I had, they would not be able to help me at this time. I never told them what question I had!!!!! This is crazy that you can’t talk to someone. I even tried calling my local office, but they no longer give help over the phone, and you are limited on what they will help you with in person if you go to their office. I called my CPA and told him of the trouble I was having. He said he has been having the same problem. He told me that a group of CPAs got together to talk about this problem, because they’re all having it!!!! So many of them have been disconnected after holding for a long time, that they’ve nicknamed it the “courtesy hang-up”!! This situation is beyond frustrating!! And after watching the segment on 60 minutes about the billions being paid out in fraudulent claims for refunds, it really makes you wonder what will happen to the IRS. Everyone should go online and watch it on YouTube!! Here is the mobile link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v3EFbRssgb0

  4. Kelly January 4, 2016 at 11:26 am #

    I have been trying to get in touch with a live person for about 3 months now. Every time I think they are going to put me on hold the basically tell me that the call volume is too high and I have to call back at another time. I have literally tried about 100 times. We filed our taxes prior to the April 15th deadline in 2015, there was an issue with Turbo tax and ours did not go through. We filed a paper copy at the end of May. We are owed a significant refund that was to be used for 2015 payments.

    I am at a loss about what I am supposed to do. Any help would be appreciated. My tax guy doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere either.

    • Rick Howard January 5, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

      Hi Kelly. Not sure what your relationship is with your “tax guy” since you used Turbo Tax. If he/she has a professional tax relationship with you (ie- CPA, Enrolled Agent, etc), then they have, or can get, an IRS assigned CAF number to represent clients as a 3rd party. Representatives with a CAF identification can use the “Practitioner Priority Service” and speak in behalf of their clients directly with an experience IRS Agent (option #5 in my article above).

      Refer your tax guy to the IRS’s site information on this process:

      I called representing a client just this morning after obtaining Form 2848 Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representation (“POA”). The line was busy the first try. I called back within a couple of minutes and was placed on hold for less than 5 minutes. After a quick summary of the issue, I informed the agent that I had completed POAs ready to fax. She provided me with a direct fax number. Upon receiving the faxed POAs, she spent some time validating the information and establishing my authority to represent the client. Once this was done, we got down to the details of the issue. I was placed on hold from time-to-time as she researched the status of the return and the outstanding issues, but she was knowledgeable, experienced and courteous. It total, it took just over an hour including making a 1 1/2 page notes in MS Word documenting the conversation for our file (use some of the “on hold” time to take notes).

      The system for tax professionals appears to still be working. We can anticipate getting experienced IRS agents that want to resolve outstanding issues.

      For the DIY taxpayer, communicating with the IRS is a growing issue. For known existing issues, there should be a notice and/or letter with an assigned telephone number (Step #3 in the above article). Also remember to make sure you have the right information available (Step #1 in the above article) once you get through. If you get a real person to talk to on the phone, be prepared to make the communication count. Extend courtesy, and you will most likely get it back.

      If you don’t have a specific contact reference, calling the published number may not get you the results you are hoping for. Try it, and be patient. You may need to hire a tax professional to get actual results.

      I hope this helps… RICK

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